I am a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse in my childhood.
In my healing process, I’ve realised that while I thought I was unaffected by the repeated sexual assaults, the hurt and repeated abuse had tainted and disfigured my perception of love.
An old Chinese adage goes: “打是疼，骂是爱”. If you hit her, it means you love her. If you scold her, it means you love her. This was often used in the context of elders disciplining the younger generation. But it also contributed to my distorted understanding of intimacy, violence and the pain as the kind of “love” that I felt I deserved.
This mindset was perpetuated by several underlying toxic beliefs that I had about myself:
The belief that sexual assault isn’t a big deal.
When I was 7, I disclosed the sexual abuse to my mother, who had said she didn’t want to hear about it. I remember concluding that if something bad happens to me, it wouldn’t matter. In short, I didn’t matter. Growing up, this would destroy my self-worth.
The belief that I was dirty and utterly corrupt.
The sexual abuse I experienced in my childhood – combined with the words and actions of my parents who refused to believe me – left me with a sense that I had been born inherently filthy and morally corrupt. There were times when I was abused and I felt embarrassed and foolish for complaining about the violence.
The belief that I deserved it.
I’d often hear things like “you make me do this to you”, or “I wouldn’t do this to you if you weren’t so bad”. This perpetuated my belief that I deserved what I got, whether it was rape or assault.
The belief that love involves pain.
As I grew older, love was always associated with abuse. At 18, I was sexually abused by a close friend, who told me how special and beautiful I was to him. If I objected to the abuse, he threatened not to love me anymore.
At that time, I was so affection-starved that while I didn’t want the abuse – no one does – I wanted to be loved and I had only ever received love from destructive sources. I simply didn’t see any other options.
Because I returned to this violent relationship again and again, I was branded as “sick” and “masochistic” by psychiatrists who I told about the relationship. What many don’t understand is that such repeated trauma may lead to a debilitating ability to care and fend for yourself in a way others might think of as “common sense”.
I fantasised about alternative, more ideal forms of love. But what I believed by then was that for someone as undeserving as I was, true love was wishful thinking. I was taught that I was beyond the pale of the tender, safe, genuine love I desperately craved. If my loved ones could not love me, who else could I expect to love me?
I didn’t know what else love could look like. How can you recite a beautiful poem you’ve never learned?
It was knowing True Love that begun the restorative work in my life. It was nurturing, all-encompassing, fail-proof love that cast out all fear in my heart.
It is still a real, uphill battle for me to accept love and to love others like Jesus.
But I now know that my value lies in my Father. I know that I deserve to be safe. I know that I didn’t deserve to be raped or abused. These scars, physical and emotional, now bear testament of His grace over my life.
If you’re reading this and you’ve been hurt by someone you love, or you’ve experienced similar destructive tendencies, know that no matter how deep the damage, you are not beyond the reach of true love. You are worth the healing process. You are worthy of love.
If heaven now owns that vacant tomb
How great is the hope that lives in You
The passion that tore through hell like a rose
The promise that rolled back death and its stone
If freedom is worth the life You raised
Oh where is my sin, where is my shame?
If love paid it all to have my heart
How wonderful, how glorious
My Saviour’s scars victorious
My chains are gone, my debt is paid
From death to life and grace to grace
Grace to Grace, Hillsong Worship (Easter Release)*