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For teenagers who have experienced any kind of abuse or abandonment, it can often feel like hope is lost and they?re doomed to stay stuck in unhealthy habits and patterns. This teenage edition of Mending the Soul was written to show teens that by following a path of restoration and allowing God?s grace to touch their heart?s deepest wounds, they will find hope and healing as they work through their pain. It will help them navigate the emotional trauma of abuse and abandonment, as well as recognize signs of ...
For teenagers who have experienced any kind of abuse or abandonment, it can often feel like hope is lost and they’re doomed to stay stuck in unhealthy habits and patterns. This teenage edition of Mending the Soul was written to show teens that by following a path of restoration and allowing God’s grace to touch their heart’s deepest wounds, they will find hope and healing as they work through their pain. It will help them navigate the emotional trauma of abuse and abandonment, as well as recognize signs of unhealthy families and dating relationships. Armed with a better understanding of their past and how the effects of abuse can lead to risky behaviors, shame, trauma and isolation—teens will be encouraged to face their brokenness, to heal and forgive and to look toward their hope-filled future. A practical resource for teens, Mending the Soul, Student Edition also offers insight into the struggles parents and ministry leaders face when working with teenage victims of abuse.
"Can you feel my pain?" Who hasn't asked that question or wanted to know the answer? If you've had painful experiences, you may feel that you're all alone. No one wants to feel that way. And the truth is, you're not alone. Everybody hurts because we're living in a broken, fallen world, and things are not the way they were created to be. This book will focus on the kinds of pain that come from abuse and abandonment.
Facing your pain is no small task. Many of your friends or family members may never pick up a book like this. You have, and that's a really big deal. By choosing to face your past, you can find freedom from it. It isn't easy—otherwise everyone would find healing, and abuse wouldn't be such a huge problem. You get to be different. You're doing this, and you'll make it through to the other side. Awesome! That's our motivation. Your long-term freedom and healing will be worth any pain you must experience along the way.
Good Pain vs. Bad Pain
When we talk about facing pain, it's important to know there are two kinds of pain—good pain and bad pain. We experience good (healthy) pain when we experience something difficult or uncomfortable that forces us to grow. For example, if your girlfriend confronts you because she feels hurt that you don't return her phone calls, that's going to sting a little, right? It doesn't feel good when someone confronts you like that. Or, if you blow off a paper for English class, get an F, and as a result are grounded for the weekend. That feels bad, too. Both of those examples are of situations that are uncomfortable to walk through. They hurt. But when you move through them, you'll grow in your relationships and become more mature. You'll learn that your friends don't feel valued if you don't call them back. You'll learn that you can't blow off a responsibility at work or at school and that sometimes you must put work ahead of having fun. You can't—and shouldn't—try to escape those experiences of pain. That kind of pain has a purpose.
Bad pain is different—it goes beyond making you uncomfortable for the purpose of your growth. It causes damage to your heart and in your life. It disrupts God's design for you. So, if the same person who feels hurt that you never return phone calls spreads rumors about you online to ruin your reputation, and then you lose all of your friends, that's bad pain—that person's behavior is abusive. If you tell your parents you got an F on your English paper, and they respond by telling you that you're worthless, stupid, and will never accomplish anything in your life, then that's bad pain.
Those types of pain cause damage. In and of themselves, these experiences don't help us to mature. Instead, they can cause us to doubt our worth and our value, and they often hinder our growth.
I (Kristi) joined a gym earlier this year. I decided that I wanted to get in better shape and was feeling very excited and motivated at first. But now, I'm beginning to lose that motivation. It was fun at first, but the newness wore off. In fact, it's been more than a month since I've been to the gym. I know I should go back, but I'm really not excited about it. You know why? Because I know that when I go back, it'll hurt. I know my muscles will be sore after I start running and lifting weights again.
When I coached softball, the girls always said the same thing about the start of the season. During tryouts the girls would be so sore they couldn't move. But for any of us who have experienced that initial pain, we know it gets better, right? If we keep exercising, our muscles get stronger. Our bodies respond because they're made to exercise. The pain actually begins to feel kind of good. In fact, when I exercise regularly, I feel better. I have more energy, my attitude improves, and I actually look forward to the next time I get to work out.
Facing the pain of your past and feeling your emotions is kind of like that. At first, you may not want to do it. It hurts to go back to memories and emotions you haven't visited in a while. But, just like going to the gym, once you allow yourself to feel, you'll get stronger. Just like your muscles, your emotions will respond—they're made to be felt and expressed. We promise you, if you read through this book, complete the exercises, and share with someone what you're learning, you'll begin to grow. Yes, there will be some pain involved, but just like my trainer told me, "No pain, no gain!" The gain you'll experience from feeling and expressing your pain is healing and true freedom.
Pain in the Bible
The Bible has a lot to say about your pain and your past and how to deal with them fully to find healing. Many people assume that facing your pain means feeling sorry for yourself. Those people would think that counseling and talking about the past; comes from a desire to have a pity party. "The past is the past, you can't change it—just move on." Or "Stop thinking about it—what's done is done." Or "The Bible says that you should 'forget what is behind,' so what's the point of looking at the past?"
It's common to hear Philippians 3:13 quoted as a reason not to look at the ugly parts of our lives (the things we've done and the things that have been done to us). Sometimes that seems easier and is tempting. It's true that in this verse the writer says, "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." But when we read any Scripture, we must look at the big picture of what's being said. Have you ever had someone repeat something you said and totally mess it up by taking one part of the conversation out of context? The same is true here. So let's look at the big picture before we draw our conclusion.
You might be surprised to know that the man who wrote this book (and twelve other books in the New Testament), the apostle Paul, was originally a horrible, cruel abuser. He was a man who had grown up in a strict faith community. In fact, his commitment to what he thought the Hebrew Scriptures taught led him to physically abuse Christians. He had a history of torturing and killing Christians. He thought they were committing blasphemy by saying Jesus was God, and he was convinced that they needed to be forced into silence. He even felt proud for defending God in this way and believed his actions were earning God's approval.
"I WENT AFTER ANYONE CONNECTED WITH THIS 'WAY,' WENT AT THEM HAMMER AND TONGS, READY TO KILL FOR GOD. I ROUNDED UP MEN AND WOMEN RIGHT AND LEFT AND HAD THEM THROWN IN PRISON. YOU CAN ASK THE CHIEF PRIEST OR ANYONE IN THE HIGH COUNCIL TO VERIFY THIS; THEY ALL KNEW ME WELL." (ACTS 22:4 THE MESSAGE)
Later, Paul became a Christian and had to deal with the reality that he had gravely hurt the very group of people whom he now held dear. Paul realized that the things he once did to try to earn God's approval actually displeased God (Acts 9:1–5). This helps us understand Paul's statement to forget the past and look to the future. Paul only said this immediately after talking honestly about his own painful past (Philippians 3:4–9). He had admitted, processed, and turned from his wrong beliefs that caused his abusive behavior. That's what allowed him to move ahead "toward the goal." We have to learn from the past before we can let go of it.
Pretending your pain doesn't exist doesn't help you—instead, it actually keeps you from moving forward. Your past could be filled with painful, hurtful actions toward others. Or you could look at your past and think you're perfect because you haven't done anything that bad. Either way, the truth is if you don't deal with your past, your past becomes your present, and it'll control you in the future. We're going to take some time to look at the reasons to do all of this emotional hard work.
Reasons to Face Your Pain
TO THE JEWS WHO HAD BELIEVED HIM, JESUS SAID, "IF YOU HOLD TO MY TEACHING, YOU ARE REALLY MY DISCIPLES. THEN YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE." (JOHN 8:31–32)
A WAY TO LIVE IN TRUTH
You may have grown up experiencing pain in your family but convinced yourself that your parents are perfect, they love you, and that you're the one who caused the problems—you blame yourself. You may have endured physical or sexual abuse by those who were supposed to love you. This distorts your view of what it means to be loved. This is why abused children, when they grow up, often begin dating abusive people. If a person connects feeling loved with pain, then that person will accidentally be attracted to new people who'll hurt him or her in similar ways.
Facing your pain allows you to call what has happened to you by its correct name: abuse, abandonment, molestation, etc. Then, you can begin to relearn the truth and what it means to have healthy relationships. We'll be helping you do that in the chapters ahead. For now, let's look at Lauren as an example:
Lauren was a sixteen-year-old who was involved in her church's student leadership group. She had the opportunity to attend a weekend retreat. This time away from home allowed the students to share, bond, and address their struggles. The last night of the retreat, the youth pastor held a time of sharing in which students were asked to tell what they learned from the experience. Toward the end of the share time, Lauren decided she had something to say. She cried as she said, "All my life I've heard people say, 'I love you.' My parents tell me, 'I love you,' but they never spend any time with me, and I hear them screaming at each other every night. My ex-boyfriend said he loved me, but he pressured me into having sex with him. And you know what? I don't think that's love anymore! This week I felt what real love is supposed to feel like, and I truly thank you for showing me that."
LOVE IS PATIENT, LOVE IS KIND. (1 CORINTHIANS 13:4)
Lauren faced her brokenness and pain and, as a result, was able to destroy her distorted view of love and replace it with the truth of what love really is.
A WAY TO EXPERIENCE HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
Facing the truth and the pain of your past is necessary to experience appropriate, healthy relationships in the present. If you act like the abuse that was done to you growing up was no big deal, then later, you're likely to minimize the abuse a boyfriend or girlfriend (or husband or wife) will do to you. Sadly, we often see this dynamic in action when students tell us that their moms keep going from one abusive man to another. We see it when students experience a series of relationships with unhealthy boyfriends or girlfriends who chronically mistreat them. If you have experienced these things, we know that it's a big deal and that you hurt. Even if no one else will acknowledge how hurtful this abuse is, we're telling you how wrong it is.
The biggest struggle I've ever had was when I had to live without a father. My real father left my mom to get drunk and party while she was pregnant. I decided I would never trust a man again. Later, my mom met a man who would become my stepdad. I'd decided not to get too attached because I didn't think it would last. Eventually, he asked my mom to marry him, and of course she said yes. When they got married, I decided to try and get along with him and get to know him. It turned out that he was great and treated me like a daughter. I finally had all the love I'd never gotten from my father. He took me to games and told me the rules. My stepdad was the one who got me into sports. He played ball with me; and when I needed someone to talk to, he was there. He understood me. That's when I decided to accept him and not judge him, because not all guys are the same. My dad is my stepdad and no one else. My mom and stepdad have been married for six years, and I just found out that he is now going to adopt me! That means I'm going to have his last name, just like he's my real dad. – Krista, age thirteen
By facing her past and the pain about her biological father, Krista was finally able to trust someone else to love her and give her the attention and time that she needed. What a great example of how new relationships can repair the old ones that have hurt us.
A WAY TO BREAK DESTRUCTIVE FAMILY PATTERNS
If you've experienced abuse from your parents, then you don't want to repeat those patterns, right? Well, here's your chance to change. The sad reality is if you don't face your past, someday you'll be unable to meet your children's emotional needs and you could hurt them the same ways your parents did you. Unless you're whole and healthy, you'll be unable to meet another person's needs.
I (Kristi) met Branden when he was fifteen years old. Both he and his girlfriend were sophomores in high school, and she had just given birth to their son, Edgar. I spent quite a bit of time with Branden and his girlfriend talking about how to stay in school, make money, and be good parents to their baby.
Over and over Branden expressed his heartfelt desire to be a better dad than he'd had growing up. He explained that his father was rarely around; but when he was, Branden's dad would yell at Branden, cuss at him, and sometimes hit him. Branden also had vivid memories of his father abusing Branden's mother.
Generally, Branden felt that he was never good enough for his father and desperately wanted his approval, yet he also hated him for causing his family such pain. After Branden got his girlfriend pregnant at the end of ninth grade, Branden's relationship with his father was more strained than ever. The following illustrates one memory Branden has from his childhood:
The music would be playing loud just to hide the fighting sounds, but I'd still wake up and see bad things. This scene was the worst for me. My dad had poured beer on my mom for no reason and also hit her in the face and made her bleed. He said it was an accident because he was drunk, but that's no excuse for what he did. My struggle is to be nothing like my father. I hate him with a great passion. I hate that I am a spitting image of him. I never wanna be like him! I try my hardest not to, but I hear people say, "Like father, like son." I know I am nothing like him, so I won't be. But I still struggle, hoping I will not be a woman beater, still hoping I will never go to jail. – Branden, age nineteen
Branden was determined not to make the same mistakes his father had made, and, in the early months of Edgar's life, Branden expressed how much he loved his son and enjoyed spending time with him. After a lot of hard work, he and his girlfriend beat the odds. They graduated from high school, obtained full-time jobs, and were living together with their son in their own apartment.
However, about six months after graduation, things took a turn for the worse. One morning Branden's girlfriend called me at my office, crying. She explained that she and Branden had been having a lot of conflict. She told how Branden would often become angry with her or Edgar and begin to yell and swear at them. She said that there had been times when Branden became so angry that he pushed her.
That morning, Branden had lost control and repeatedly pushed her, eventually causing her to hit the kitchen counter and fall to the ground. Edgar, now three years old, was so scared he ran to the bathroom, sat down behind the door, covered his ears, and cried. Branden's girlfriend described other times when Edgar would throw things around the apartment, trying to distract his fighting parents by getting himself into trouble.
Later that day, Branden came to my office to tell me his side of the story. As we talked I could see Branden's posture and attitude change from anger and frustration to sadness and desperation. Eventually, Branden cried as he remembered the heartfelt words he had spoken only three years earlier. How could he have gotten so out of control that he had physically and verbally abused his girlfriend and son? Branden realized he could see himself in Edgar's scared face huddled in the bathroom. He also remembered being that "bad kid" to distract his father from hitting his mother. After all he had been through, how could he be just like his own abusive dad? If he hated what his father had done, how could he do those same things?
Excerpted from Mending the Soul Student Edition by Steven R. Tracy Celestia G. Tracy Kristi Ickes Garrison Copyright © 2011 by Steven R. Tracy and Celestia G. Tracy. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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SECTION 1: UNDERSTANDING MY PAST (four chapters)
Students and adults who have grown up with abusive and unhealthy families are not able to articulate that the people who they love have acted abusively and sinfully toward them. Before a person can heal from their past pain they must have an understanding of what was right and wrong and stop minimizing their experiences. They must name it for what it is – abuse.
Chapter One: Understanding the Pain of Abuse
This chapter teaches that everyone experiences pain in their lives – either through abuse or abandonment. Each type of abuse has a broad spectrum of how it is experienced so explanations, statistics, examples, and student writings illustrate physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse.
Chapter Two: Understanding the Pain of Abandonment
This chapter explains that abandonment, while more difficult to see, is just as damaging as abuse. Just as there are five categories of abuse, the same five categories make up the forms of abandonment. Even though the effects of abuse and abandonment are painful and overwhelming, we can find hope because God redeemed Christ’s horrific experience abuse on the cross. God wants to do the same miracle in our lives and use our pain for His glory.
Chapter Three: Understanding Unhealthy Families
This chapter discusses the dynamics of unhealthy families and abusers, which are contrasted with examples of healthy families. Since unhealthy families can look good on the outside and abusers often look like regular people, the end of the chapter focuses on the four common characteristics of abusers – blaming, tricking, judging, and intimidating others.
Chapter Four: Understanding Unhealthy Dating
This chapter teaches students that when they grow up in unhealthy and abusive families they are very likely to experience abuse in dating relationships as well. Unhealthy and healthy relationships are contrasted using examples from teens. A section on healthy sexuality references secular research that indicates the importance of delaying sexual activity until marriage.
SECTION 2: ADMITTING MY PRESENT (four chapters)
The effects of abuse are complex and many times counter-intuitive; therefore, students often look at their feelings and behaviors and inaccurately conclude that something is wrong with them. In this section, complex psychological factors are discussed in a very simple way allowing students to understand how their past pain is affecting them.
Chapter Five: The Effects of Abuse = Risky Behaviors
The most common concern from adults regarding adolescence is risky behaviors. Abuse creates unmet needs, and for those students, high risk behavior (drugs, alcohol, sex, gangs, violence) can superficially meet those needs. Students are encouraged to deal with the pain under their behaviors and reach out to others to get their needs met in the ways that God designed.
Chapter Six: The Effects of Abuse = Shame
This chapter explains the difference between the feelings of guilt and shame. Students begin to assess the things in their life that they have done wrong, which cause legitimate God-given guilt, and the things that have been done wrong to them, which causes unhealthy toxic shame. The link between abuse and toxic shame is given along with steps and activities that will help students begin healing toxic shame.
Chapter Seven: The Effects of Abuse = Trauma
This chapter summarizes the brain’s and body’s natural reactions to trauma (hyper-arousal, intrusion, and numbing) and how extreme stress and abuse can cause a person to get stuck in this reactionary mode. Trauma causes students to feel powerless, a common underlying contributor to suicide, which is also addressed in this chapter.
Posted July 16, 2014