Facing Sexual Abuse ◆ Finding Joy in the Midst of Trauma

»Posted on Mar 28, 2015 in Abuse, Grief, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments


One of the most difficult aspects of my job as a psychologist is having to venture into the depravity of mankind, particularly as it brings about unthinkable harm and unbelievable trauma to others. It is something that can be so unfathomably dark that if feels like a sucker punch to the gut each time. I never get used to our human capacity for evil, even as it keeps me humble and ever so grateful for the grace of God who can come into any darkness and bring about hope.

And THAT is why I continue to do what I do – because I have seen God heal, I have seen him bring about immense joy in the midst of pain and suffering, I have seen his beautiful, grace-filled, redemptive work in the lives of many people.

YES, there is hope – great hope for all of us.  For all of us who have experienced trauma, abuse, loss.

One of the most traumatic forms of trauma is sexual abuse – especially if it is perpetrated by a trusted family or friend. What makes it even more difficult is that it tends to be cloaked in secrecy and shame that can forever mark the victim as “garbage”. But that is not from God, that is a lie straight from the pit of hell.  Finding joy and healing after sexual abuse is the theme of the video in today’s blog.  If this is you, please take the time to watch the video and then choose to reach out for help.

My personal mission is to bring hope and healing to many people, not by my efforts – which is so inadequate in the face of such pain, but by being someone who exemplifies Jesus Christ in how I love deeply, show compassion and acceptance, and create a safe place for the sufferer to heal.  If you’ve been injured by abuse, please choose to reach out for help.  You can break free from the chains of abuse. You can be whole again, free to enjoy healthy relationships and a full life.

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Ask Dr. Merry: Mean Girls

»Posted on Nov 2, 2012 in Abuse, Ask Dr. Lin, Personal Growth | 0 comments

mean girls

I’m having some problems with an ex-friend I knew in high school. We’ve had a rocky history together because she would be nice to me when we were alone, but would make fun of me in front of other people. It seemed like she would only hang out with me when her other friends weren’t available, but as soon as they came around, she would ditch me.  I was always there for her when she needed a shoulder to cry on but she was never there for me.  After high school we never talked, and lost touch.  Recently, she tried to friend me on Facebook, but when I didn’t respond, she apparently got upset with me.  Now I’m hearing through the grapevine that she’s saying nasty things about me and it’s really upsetting me.  I don’t understand why she wanted to friend me in the first place and why she’s being so vindictive now. When we were friends in high school, she treated me like garbage, and still does the same thing now. I just want to move on with my life. I don’t get it: why does she hate me so much?

Unfortunately, given today’s easy access to social media and the public way in which some people like to air their dirty laundry, this type of “mean girl” bullying tends to go viral.  And as you’re experiencing, it’s a problem that extends beyond high school kids to infect even “mature” adults.  So I can see why it bothers you that she seems to hate you so much and has been public with her nastiness.  But I think the more important questions are:  Why do you care what she thinks? Why does it bother you so much that you don’t feel like you can move on with your life?

Her behaviour sounds appalling and it seems like she was rarely a good friend to you back in high school and certainly not now. Good friends treat each other with respect and kindness, they prioritize spending time together, they support and nurture each other, and they have each other’s back. It doesn’t sound like she did any of this, so I don’t blame you for not keeping in contact with her after high school.  I’m glad you realize that she really wasn’t a friend to you and took steps to maintain your distance from her even though she appears to be punishing you for “rejecting” her.

The challenge for you now is to set some boundaries for yourself emotionally, so that you refuse to let her bad behaviour dictate how you feel about yourself or your life.  You have no control over what she says or does, so choose to stop giving her power over your life by denying her even one iota of your emotional energy and attention.  You can choose to take control over your own emotions and well-being, and refuse to allow yourself to dwell on her behaviour.  Don’t follow her postings online and don’t torture yourself imagining what she’s thinking of you or what others are thinking of you.  Focus instead on the relationships in your life that are supportive and uplifting and spend time doing positive things that help you feel better about yourself and your life.

Adolescent girls in particular seem to believe that it’s acceptable to treat their friends poorly — the “mean girl” syndrome — and far too many girls let them. I’m not certain why that is the case but it may have to do with a combination of wanting to be accepted by the mean friends (who may be seen as popular), not knowing what true friendship looks like, or not thinking enough of themselves to insist upon respectful treatment. I know that the high school years can be very challenging for many young girls because of their insecurities, their desire to fit in and their inexperience in handling interpersonal conflicts or relationship challenges.  I do wonder if some of your current distress is a trigger for some unresolved hurts from your past experiences as a young girl, so it may be worth your while pursuing some counselling if you’re having a hard time letting this go.

I’m a huge proponent of boundaries, so I wish that girls like you would stand up to the mean girls and let them know in no uncertain terms that if they want to be your friend, they have to treat you well.  And if they choose not to respect your boundary even after repeated attempts to respectfully enforce your line in the sand, then it’s okay for you to back away from that toxic relationship.  Don’t tolerate this ongoing meanness from anyone in your life.  I don’t believe that when Jesus asks us to “turn the other cheek” he means for us to tolerate abuse from anyone.  While I know that we aren’t supposed to retaliate with our own mean or vengeful behaviour, we also aren’t meant to be doormats.  And we’re certainly never meant to define our worth by how others view us or treat us.

Please know that this ex-friend’s behaviour is more about herself than it is about you.  As I described in my series on boundaries, boundary crashers (which she clearly is)  often suffer from insecurities and a need to “power down” or manipulate others so that it elevates themselves.  Don’t interpret her actions or words as any indication of your worth but recognize that she is the one with the problems, not you.

Whatever her reason for doing what she’s doing, it is important that you move on. Given that this person is no longer in your life, don’t waste another minute trying to figure out her toxic behaviour.  Even if you could answer your question about why she hates you, it doesn’t solve the problem with her mean behaviour and only keeps you stuck wondering why she does what she does.  Instead, focus on making certain that future friends treat you with the respect and dignity that you deserve.


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Ask Dr. Merry: Teenage Son’s Marijuana Use

»Posted on Oct 26, 2012 in Abuse, Addiction, Ask Dr. Lin, Family Life | 2 comments


I don’t even know where to begin other than to say that our life has been in complete chaos for the last few years, mainly because of our 17 year old son.  He was always a really great kid and full of life.  But ever since he turned 14, he’s been sullen and angry and just plain nasty to us and his younger sister.  Last year, we discovered that he has been smoking marijuana heavily and skipping school.  We only found out about the marijuana when the school called us and told us they had to suspend him for getting into a fight with another kid.  We’ve tried everything, from taking things away, to reasoning with him, to even bribing him, but nothing seems to work.  Things have gotten really bad, to the point where I honestly don’t feel safe with him when he’s flipping out.  He’s always getting into screaming matches with my husband and there are so many holes in our walls now that I’ve lost count.  He’s also started to verbally abuse our daughter who’s 14 years old.  Last week was the last straw when he got into a huge fight with my husband and he ended up trashing the room they were in.  I’m totally exhausted and just longing to have my family back.  Our pastor has tried to talk to him but he just shuts him out, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with church anymore. I don’t know what to do and am hoping for some direction please!

I’m incredibly sorry to hear what you and your family are going through – the turmoil and worries must be overwhelming for you, particularly when it’s your child who is the source of the stress. As a parent, having an out-of-control kid is very frightening, especially when it seems that nothing you do is making a difference. I have heard stories like yours in my office too many times, and it hasn’t gotten any easier to watch families like yours suffer in this way.  My heart truly goes out to you and I pray that you will have the courage to take some of the tough steps that I’m going to recommend – for your family’s and your son’s ultimate well-being.

There are a number of issues here that have to be addressed:  first and most importantly is the safety of your family and especially your daughter.  It sounds like things have escalated to the point where your son’s behaviour is becoming more erratic and out of control.  You haven’t indicated any physical violence directed towards a person in your home but if there is (or a threat of it), then you have no choice but to act quickly to protect your home.  Because your daughter is a minor, her safety is of primary concern and by law, you may actually have to report the abuse to the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) or the police.  Although you only mention verbal abuse towards your daughter, that does fall in the “gray” area that could require the authorities to get involved.  If you aren’t sure, then consult with a professional in your area who could give you some guidance.

Regardless, you must consider how your tumultuous home environment is affecting your daughter’s well-being.  In many cases, these children can struggle from anxiety or depression because of feeling powerless in the face of the bullying, unable to experience safety and security in her home.  And so, as painful and difficult as this can be, you may no choice at this point but to remove your son from your home, at least temporarily.  You may also want to consider getting some family counselling to ensure that there is healing for you and your family from the turmoil of your son’s choices and to give you support as you walk the difficult path of tackling his problems.

Another issue that has to be addressed is his use of marijuana.  You don’t indicate the extent of his usage but I do wonder if it’s a core issue that’s escalating his mood dysregulation and out of control behaviour.  Many teens buy into the myth that marijuana is harmless but in actuality, it can be very addictive and have disastrous effects on their lives, from significant cognitive decline (affecting their brain processing, memory, decision-making and impulse control), to an increase in reckless and life-threatening behaviour and accidents, to mental illness (even triggering schizophrenia or psychotic breaks) , to a myriad of health problems.

I’m not sure of the extent of your son’s use but he needs professional help to assess him and recommend treatment options.  In many cases, when teens start heavy marijuana at a young age, they can become addicted and have difficulty stopping on their own, and so they may need to go to an addictions treatment centre or some sort of addictions support group for teens (your doctor or your local hospital should be able to direct you to resources in your community).  If he refuses to get professional help, then YOU go to seek help for how to handle this.  You can then get support for how to set boundaries, draw the line in the sand and refuse to enable his bad behaviour.  Even if it turns out that he isn’t using marijuana any more, his out of control behaviour needs to be addressed decisively, consistently, and with loving firmness.

Many times, teens will refuse to admit that they have a problem and so families can get into this dysfunctional dance when they try to help:  their teens gets into trouble, the parents step in to try to help, the teens are clean for a while, but then they start using again and on and on the cycle goes.  The whole family’s life then becomes wrapped up in one escalating crisis after another.

In our fear for their safety and well-being, we parents can sometimes interfere with the hard lessons that our kids need to learn to help them turn away from their bad choices.  One of the hardest things that parents sometimes have to do is watch their teens hit rock bottom.  Like the father had to do in the biblical story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), we may have to let them go their way so that when the consequences of their choices become too unbearable for them, they finally come to their senses.  While it can feel like you’re abandoning your son, you’re actually doing the most loving thing to ensure that he is able to finally take responsibility for his own choices and that he grows through his mistakes.  This will be a time when you will likely wear out your knees praying for your son.

For parents who are Christ-followers, this can be a time of intense faith building as you learn to release to God the care and well-being of your children.  If you’re able to focus on the truth that God loves your son even more than you do, that he is sovereign and only allows into your son’s life what he will use for his long-term good, and that he has promised to redeem everything for good in your son’s life (even his worst mistakes) when he turns back to God, then perhaps you can choose to hold onto hope.  I strongly encourage you to connect with other families in your church or community who have walked in your shoes and can give you a sense of hope and strength during this next stage of your journey with your son.


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Boundaries from the Inside Out – Part 1 (of 4)

»Posted on Oct 16, 2012 in Abuse, Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Personal Growth | 0 comments


Mary sat stiffly in my office, fuming and embarrassed after an argument with her husband, Joe, who had just stormed out of my office and slammed the door forcefully.  We could hear him muttering and swearing as he made his way out of the waiting room area.  After a moment of tense silence, Mary sighed and told me that this was their usual pattern.  Not only that, but on more than one occasion, their conflict would escalate to the point where there was pushing and shoving, and a lot of name calling and blaming.  Mostly on his part.  After several days of silence, things would go back to “normal” once Mary pursued Joe and placated him with apologies and coddling.  But she was getting tired of having to do this all the time, so she had dragged him into my office to “fix” his anger problem.

While it was true that Joe had problems with his anger, Mary had a bigger problem.  She had a problem with her boundaries.  Because she didn’t understand her responsibility to herself to set and maintain healthy boundaries with others, she had allowed the ongoing abuse from her husband.  She had also taken responsibility to manage his moods and anger, seeing that as something a loving wife is supposed to do.  Isn’t that what God meant when he said to submit to her husband?

For many of you reading this post, you count yourself lucky because you don’t have this problem in your life and you are certain you would NEVER let someone treat you the way Mary has let Joe treat her.  While this may seem like an obvious case of boundary problems, for many of us, we unknowingly struggle with boundary issues that cause us unnecessary suffering.

How do we know?  Here are some signs of unhealthy boundaries:

  • Having a hard time saying no so you end up doing something you don’t want to do, or feeing bad or guilty when you say no.
  • Being a people pleaser, even going against your personal values or rights to please others.
  • Having to do something a certain way or change your behaviour so that someone else can continue an unproductive or unsafe behaviour.
  • Not speaking up when you are treated poorly.
  • Ignoring your own discomfort, anger or anxiety so that someone else can be happy and comfortable.
  • Sacrificing your own goals, responsibilities, projects and self-care to give to or help others.
  • Falling apart so someone can take care of you.
  • Falling “in love” with someone you barely know or who reaches out to you.
  • Telling your life’s story to the first person who shows a listening ear, even strangers.
  • Accepting advances, touching and sex that you don’t want.
  • Taking as much as you can and manipulating others to get what you want.
  • Pushing a person to do what you want, even after they’ve said no.
  • Trying to control what your loved ones do or with whom they spend time.
  • Using your anger or disapproval (even in indirect or passive-aggressive ways) to get your way with others.
  • Neglecting to express your concerns or wishes and then getting upset when others don’t meet them.
  • Taking up someone’s time, without asking them and being careless with others’ schedules or timelines.
  • Regularly being late with your work assignments, expecting that others will step in to rescue the project.
  • Inserting yourself into someone else’s space and expecting immediate attention.
  • Expecting others to fulfill your needs automatically.
  • Touching a person without asking, or stepping into their personal space.
  • Dominating a conversation, situation or relationship with a disregard for others.

So what are boundaries?  I especially like the definition that Cloud and Townsend give in their best-selling book, Boundaries:

A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives: Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us, mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts, emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God’s will from our own.

In other words, personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that we create to identify for ourselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around us and how we will respond when someone steps outside those limits. They define us as individuals, outlining our likes and dislikes, and setting the distances we allow others to approach. And as Cloud and Townsend said, they include physical, mental, psychological and spiritual boundaries.

Learning to set healthy personal boundaries is essential for maintaining a positive self-image. It is our way of communicating to others that we have self-respect and self-worth, and that we will not allow others to define us.  They are the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others. Their presence helps us express ourselves as the unique individuals we are, while we acknowledge the same in others.

Without personal boundaries and our willingness to communicate and enforce those limits directly and honestly with others, it would not be possible to enjoy healthy relationships.  We need to recognize that God has created each of us as unique individuals with distinct emotions, needs and preferences.  Respecting ourselves in this way is honouring the worth that God places in each one of us, and our integrity as individuals of equal worth to God.  To set personal boundaries means to preserve your God-given identity, to take responsibility for who you are, and to take control of your life.

If you want to learn more about boundaries, be sure to follow this four-part series that will be posted over the next four weeks in Parts 2, 3 and 4.  In the meanwhile, feel free to comment or ask questions!


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