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.

Why I Have Delayed Writing Lately…

This is the reason.

My new home.

I have about ten articles rumbling in my belly these days and I would love to get them all done. But a long process of extraordinary length, peppered with the occasional act of God, has made it difficult to write what I want to write.

Many of you are new to this blog and are here to read about victimization, egalitarianism, pacifism, or marriage success. And we will get back to all of those subjects shortly. But, because you’re new, I want to give you some perspective on my recent journey.

After starting a church in Sacramento in 1999 and pastoring it for 16 years, I resigned in 2015. I devoted myself to writing, teaching, and counseling. At the time, I anticipated moving to Oregon to teach in a college there. But I learned some things about the college’s viewpoints on church, counseling, and certain elements in our culture which I could not truck with. I stopped pursuing that teaching position.

We had already sold our house and moved into a rental. I wasn’t sure what I would do, so I kept doing what I was doing. Then, a church in Hayward, CA lost their pastor to cancer. They asked me to help them work through that.

That’s when the whirlwind started.

  • My counseling load exploded
  • The rental house sold
  • Our daughter moved home after finishing grad school
  • We found the perfect house. Problem: It wasn’t built yet.
  • Moved into an apartment while the house was being built.
  • Began working half the week in Sacramento, half the week in the Bay Area (70 miles apart).
  • Speaking requests increased.
  • Victim advocacy requests started to pour in.

Finally, two weeks ago, our house was completed and we began to move in. 40 years of marital stuff came from the apartment, the storage unit, and our friends’ garages.

We are now in and setting up house.

I am starting to write again with a renewed vigor.

The antics of pastoral abusers like Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias, Andy Savage, and several others are pissing me off.

You’re going to hear about a lot of this.

Matthew 25 Spoken to the Pastors of Today”

sheep-goats

You can read Matthew 25 yourselves.

In the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the Son of Man, now called the King, accuses the religious leaders of not helping the poor, hospitalized, homeless, hungry, and thirsty. He lets them know when they withhold these things from people, they are really withholding them from Him, their Creator.

We do have other necessary things we are withholding from people today in the Church. Though not all of us do this, enough of us do that it is worth revisiting Matthew 25 to see if it could be re-imagined this way: (Please note: All of these are based on actual court cases from the past two years)

“Depart from me, you who are cursed with trying to get more butts into the seats, and burn with the eternal knowledge that you caused one of my little ones to stumble.

For I was slapped by one of your husbands and you refused to believe he could do such a thing; and then you elected him to the Deacons board.

I was molested in the Sunday school classroom, and you said there was not enough proof.

I was led down a dark road by the youth pastor and forced to have sex, and you covered it up and made it all go away.

I told you that your pastor had an affair with me, and even though the evidence was overwhelming, you said there was nothing you could do.

I was taken advantage of by a narcissistic church leader, and you all ganged up on me and told me if I had dressed more modestly, none of this would have happened.

I was photographed by your children’s pastor and used for child pornography, and only when the fifth victim came forward did you do anything.

I was raped, and even though the law says you must tell the police, you hid behind Matthew 18 and handled it yourself. And he has now raped four women and he is still a member of the church.

And what will you answer?

Why I Am Hard-Nosed on Sexual Crimes in Churches

The dormitory I lived in during my theological training was named after him.

One of the graduate programs had an academic discipline named after him.

His accomplishments were occasionally touted as the example for how an evangelist should comport themselves in traveling ministries.

He was thought of as one of our denomination’s most effective preachers to teens. At the very least, people believed he could lead any teen to Christ.

And at my last count, he had molested, raped, or assaulted over 30 teenagers during his years as a traveling evangelist.

How is that possible?

It started when a woman in her 40s began counseling with me for depression. I am not at liberty to discuss any other elements of her care, but she hinted to me that a church leader had done sexual things to her when she was a young teenager. I asked her if she had ever told anyone, and she admitted she had told several of the church’s elders, two of the leading women, her youth pastor, a policeman who went to the church, and her mother.

Only one of them believed her–a woman in the church whose daughter had a similar story to tell. I began our discussion about this assault by telling her I believed her story. I want all my clients to know I believe them. Unless they give me good reason to doubt any element of the story, it is proper to express to a victim they are believed. I understand this both from my training as a counselor and from my experience.

My mother said the same thing to me when I was 8 years old. My mother comforted me when I finally revealed our babysitter had molested me 3 times.

After working with this woman for several sessions, I asked her if she would be willing to reveal the identity of her assailant. He had raped her after a youth evangelistic rally when he had brought her to the trailer he was using while in that town. He had lured her there on the pretense of wanting to “pray with her over her many sins.”

After raping her, he blamed her for being seductive and told her that no one would believe the story if she claimed he had been the aggressor. He also hinted she was filled with a demon of lust and that is what overpowered him. He was a skilled manipulator, a practiced Groomer and Controller. He knew what he was doing. When I first heard her story, I had no idea how skilled this man was.

She finally revealed his name and I recognized it instantly. His name was plastered all over the campus of the theological school I had attended. Gordon Skitch was famous in both Canada and the United States for his youth rallies. By the time this woman revealed his crimes to me, he had been dead for about 15 years and as such was on his way to being memorialized for his work.

Our work together to bring healing and restoration to her life was relatively successful and she was so glad someone had both believed her and helped her to work through the pain and heartache. Because of this, she felt emboldened to tell a few friends who had been in the same youth group what God had done for her. Because she had no more shame for what had happened, she was quite liberal in telling people who had done this to her.

That’s when the phone calls to my office started.

In the next year, over a dozen women called me to set up appointments to come and see me. All of them had similar stories. Evangelist Gordon Skitch had molested, raped, or exposed himself to them. As the horror of their disclosures hit me, I was floored. How could so much of this have happened under the watch of pastors, church leaders, superintendents and others who should have been protecting the youth of these churches?

In almost 40 years of being both a pastor and a counselor I have observed several things about how churches deal with sex offenders. First, they don’t want to hear about it. They refuse to believe all accusations because in reality it ruins their idyllic view of what the church should be. This is strange, because we don’t do this as often with schools, political circles, businesses, or community organizations. We will reluctantly accept that a high school teacher sleeps with one of their students. It doesn’t imply the school is a bad school because one teacher is evil.

But for some reason, church members can’t accept that a pastor might have assaulted or molested one of the young people in the church. In their minds, to accept such a thing means the church is somehow not the bastion of righteousness.

Second, churches have been taught that Grace and Mercy implies we should be magnanimous to the abuser and shame the victim. Though we have not been explicitly taught this, our actions have given everyone this impression. We give farewell dinners to the molester and pray for him. The victim has to sit and watch this knowing that the board’s advice to her is “now don’t go telling the world about this.”

Third, churches often refuse to get the courts and police involved. They reason they can take care of this themselves. I’m here to tell you through this story that we can’t. We are not objective enough to see this for what it is: A Breach of Fiduciary Responsibility.

When a person in a position of absolute authority uses that authority to sexually use a person, they have broken the law. This isn’t the same as the pastor who has a one-night stand with a parishioner, or the elder who has an affair with the church’s bookkeeper. To use one’s authority to both take a sexual favor and cover it up is the height of grooming and controlling behavior. I’ll explain more about that in a later article.

Because of these brave women coming forward, I was able to contact our District Superintendent and he enabled me to contact pastors in churches where Skitch had preached over the years in our district. We then asked if there were women who would be willing to disclose his activities with them. At the final count, 32 women came forward in that part of the country to tell the same general story: he had assaulted them and then threatened them if they ever came forward.

He is one of the most heinous examples of this sort of pastoral crime. But he is not the only one I know of. Even this past month, the criminal activity of one of our country’s best known preaching pastors, Andy Savage of Highpoint Church in Memphis, TN has been brought to light. Link here.

Read this account and accept that it follows a similar pattern to other cases of fiduciary misconduct.

In the weeks to come, I am going to give some guidelines to churches regarding how they should be dealing with these situations. Our denomination completely failed our youth by allowing Gordon Skitch to keep going with his reign of terror. People knew what was happening and refused to believe the victims. Or, if they believed them, they did  nothing to stop it…which is even worse.

Even after I did the investigation, the District Superintendent who came after the one who authorized me to do it, decided to shut it down. “The man is dead” he told me. “No good can come from digging up his past”.

“Yes there is” I countered. “Women everywhere need to be told they will be believed and nothing like this will ever happen to them, their daughters or their granddaughters again.” He didn’t accept what I had to say. There were never any more disclosures about Gordon Skitch.

I use his name in this article to open up the possibility there are more women around the country who might want to know they are not the only victim.

This is why I am tough on this crime. The church of Jesus Christ needs to lead the way in exposing these crimes and making sure that the abusers are brought to justice. Grace does not exclude consequences for criminal activity.

I am dedicated to rooting this out wherever I see it: And to make sure churches do not minimize, victim-shame, gaslight, or rationalize this behavior. It is always wrong.