About Push Back the Dark

Purpose

The purpose of this book is to create companions who will sustain adults on their journey to healing after childhood sexual abuse. While the book is focused on companionship as a church ministry, it is not limited to that context. Every reader will find helpful content, including reasons why childhood sexual abuse is so damaging for many years, misunderstandings and stereotypes of childhood sexual abuse, characteristics of environments that create a climate open to ministry to victims versus environments that foster the climate that silences and shames victims, and the redemptive experience of creating personal meaning after its destruction during trauma.

What is companioning?

A companion is a person with many privileges. One is that he or she travels alongside another person. In fact, that is the most common view of a companion, one who “comes alongside” for a period of time, ranging from short to long. Another is that the companion is intended to complement the traveler. That view sees the companion as having qualities, such a personality traits or certain skills, that assist the traveler who lacks the very qualities offered by the companion. A beautiful visual is a nautical one: the companion is the raised frame with windows on the quarterdeck that allows light onto the decks below.

For what journey is the companion needed in this book?

The journey focus in this book is that of healing and recovery from childhood sexual abuse. Childhood sexual abuse is a common tragedy in our culture that also occurs in contexts defined as “Christian,” such as youth groups, church camps, and families. In the Christian culture, insufficient information and misleading stereotypes about childhood sexual abuse have resulted in wrongful choices regarding victims and offenders among pastors, ministry staff, youth workers, and church leaders.

Christian worldview of sexual abuse

Reading and hearing about childhood sexual abuse both frightens and compels Christians. Widespread media coverage has the unfortunate effect of motivating fear-based responses, such as overly rapid implementation of a child protection policy by church leaders, to conclude that “we have taken care of that.” However, an accurate understanding of the tragedy of childhood sexual abuse requires digesting extensive mental health scholarship and contemplating difficult and emotionally challenging content. That information, however, builds a compelling call to respond lovingly and Biblically to adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Non-Christian Readers

Wait, you are saying. I do not call myself a Christian. I am reading this book to better understand a Christian client I am helping, or because I am interested in the topic in general. Are you going to be too preach-y for me? No. I will present content in a Christian perspective not characteristic of secular academic writing for mental health professionals. But that perspective will enhance your multicultural knowledge, skills and attitudes for clients with a strong faith history and/or commitment.

Defining needs

  1. What is childhood sexual abuse? What are its consequences for adult life? How does childhood sexual abuse within a Christian context damage the adult victim's Christian life? Chapters 1 and 2 consider childhood sexual abuse, and Chapters 3 and 4 examine misunderstandings and deliberately wrongful responses to the problem particularly characteristic of faith communities.
  2. What is forgiveness? What can help the victim forgive the offender? In contrast, what damages the victim and prevents true forgiveness? Chapter 5 considers forgiveness as the first step in the process of reconstructing meaning after the trauma.
  3. What happens as the victim decides to forgive the offender, a process that has a beginning and a middle and an end? Chapters 6 and 7 describe the process of meaning making, how a person, whose core beliefs have been shattered, reconstructs personal meaning and creates new directions.
  4. How can companions and others who desire to be helpful to victims, particularly those in teaching, counseling, or ministering positions, be better informed? Chapters 8 and 9 provide internet and print resources for those who are helping victims and for victims.

Victim vs. Survivor

Within conversation about childhood sexual abuse, there is a debate: should we use the term “victim” or the term “survivor?” Mental health professionals prefer the term “survivor” as it implies an empowerment for surviving the trauma. Akhila (2012)[1] makes several key observations. Using the term "victim" can suggest passivity, and an inability to fight back. Using the term “survivor” hints at resourcefulness and taking action in the face of obstacles. But there is another side, and that is the side I chose. The term “victim” means that the recipient was actually a victim: attacked, brutalized, and then often further mistreated in not receiving justice for the attack. Since there is doubt in the church, there must be acceptance that persons who experienced childhood sexual abuse were not at fault, were not able to defend themselves, and are actually true victims. Thus, I use the term “victim” primarily throughout this book.

Why another book?

Last, who am I, and why am I writing this book? I am a Christian, and a psychologist, and a victim of childhood sexual abuse. My career in psychological research has been directed by difficulties I faced in my own life: stress, trauma, coping, forgiveness, and meaning-making. God has given me the remarkable and miraculous gift of recovery, and a deep passion for helping others who may not have had the resources to which I had access. I believe the church, broadly writ, has failed in the task of reaching adult victims. I believe, equally, that with accurate information and clear instruction, companions can come alongside victims on these challenging journeys to wholeness and new life. The goal of this book is to make that companioning be fruitful, bringing glory and honor to God.

[1] Akhila. (2012, March 13). Why words matter: Victim v. Survivor. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://akhilak.com/blog/2012/03/13/why-words-matter-victim-v-survivor/