“The Journey to Healing,” Ensign, Sept. 1997, 19
I am a survivor of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. I no longer view myself as a victim. The change has come from inside me—my attitude. I do not need to destroy myself with anger and hate. I don’t need to entertain thoughts of revenge. My Savior knows what happened. He knows the truth. He can make the judgments and the punishments. He will be just. I will leave it in his hands. I will not be judged for what happened to me, but I will be judged by how I let it affect my life. I am responsible for my actions and what I do with my knowledge. I am not to blame for what happened to me as a child. I cannot change the past. But I can change the future. I have chosen to heal myself and pass on to my children what I have learned. The ripples in my pond will spread through future generations.
Recently the Ensign invited readers who had experienced childhood abuse to share how the gospel of Jesus Christ helped them on their journeys to healing. Responses such as the one at left were as unique as each individual. But common threads were woven throughout—stories of power through prayer, strength through obedience, hope in the love of Jesus Christ. These eternal truths, accompanied with guidance from a caring priesthood leader and counsel from a qualified therapist when needed, made starting on the journey to healing a possibility.
The results of childhood abuse, whether sexual, physical, or emotional, can be devastating. Those who shared their stories related similar challenges as they grew into adulthood: fear, anger, distrust, depression, a sense of little self-worth—powerful, debilitating feelings that affected every aspect of these members’ lives as they struggled to understand and deal with these emotions.
“Part of being on the healing journey for me has included dealing with personal problems that have come as a result of the abuse,” wrote one member. “It has been frustrating and sometimes frightening to struggle with these weaknesses, but the Lord has assured me that ‘my grace is sufficient for thee’ (2 Cor. 12:9). As long as I keep moving on the path of recovery the Lord will accompany and assist. I have a new appreciation for the concept of mercy and recognize the need for an Atonement. I have a deep appreciation for my Savior, who makes up the difference in price I cannot pay for myself.”
Truly the Atonement plays the crucial role in the healing process as people with broken hearts and scarred spirits realize they are not alone in their pain and that the Savior has provided a way for them to find peace.
“In October 1995 I was sitting in a chapel listening to general conference,” remembers one woman. “Elder Jeffrey Holland spoke on remembering the Lord during the passing of the sacrament. He suggested we remember the Savior’s humble birth and other aspects of the Savior’s life. Then when Elder Holland spoke of remembering the Crucifixion, he said, ‘To those who stagger or stumble, he is there to steady and strengthen us. In the end he is there to save us, and for all this he gave his life’ (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 69).
“I was amazed. I knew Jesus Christ had given his life to pay for the sins of the world. But I did not know the Savior had given his life for the pains, abuse, and tearful suffering we all have to endure in this life, oftentimes as innocent victims of terrible circumstances far beyond our own control.
“I raced home after conference in order to look up scriptures about this aspect of the Savior’s Crucifixion. I found a wonderful scripture: ‘Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
“‘For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him’ (D&C 18:10–11). He did not suffer just for people’s sins; he also suffered their pains. What a powerful message that was to my heart to learn he had suffered for those of us who had been abused. I can honestly say that my healing began on that day.”
One member, plagued for years with depression, fear, anger, and feelings of suicide, recalled the turning point in her healing journey when she realized the Atonement was applicable in her life. “I was stunned at how loved I must be,” she wrote. “Indeed, I stood all amazed at the love Jesus offered me. This new knowledge of how the Atonement applied to me and how I was truly within the bounds of it gave me the courage to try life once again. It has been 10 years since that crossroad of my life. That one gospel principle of the Atonement and how it applied to my situation made all of the difference.”
Once a person has recognized the power of the Atonement and felt the hope proffered through that eternal sacrifice, further and deeper reliance on a loving Heavenly Father is a major step toward healing. Sometimes, however, that is easier said than done.
“Because of things which had been done to me in my childhood, it was very difficult for me to want to establish a close relationship with God,” wrote one reader. “It was much easier for me to worship him from a distance. I had no desire for him to know me, and I thought I could hide myself from him. In my opinion, he didn’t really want to know someone like me anyway. I had been through such awful experiences, and I was sure that God, in all of his perfection, would be abhorred to know who I really was.”
But falling to one’s knees and humbly seeking Heavenly Father’s help, love, and guidance prove pivotal. “Healing best begins with your sincere prayer asking your Father in Heaven for help,” encouraged Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a general conference address on healing. “That use of your agency allows divine intervention” (“Healing the Tragic Scars of Abuse,” Ensign, May 1992, 32).
Those who follow that counsel can find comfort and guidance. “I started by praying,” recalled one man. “I had nothing to lose. I prayed, really prayed for the first time ever. I prayed long and hard and often. I prayed heavily for answers. I prayed for the pain to be eased. I listened to the responses that I got to my prayers, and I know my Heavenly Father spoke to me. I heard it inside my soul. I have no question that I had answers given to me. I was pleading for answers and comfort, and he was there. For the first time in my life I really was applying the principles in my life, and they were working. Something was different. I was starting to change.”
Prayer brings blessings to the lives of all faithful individuals, but to those who are struggling to feel love, hope, and joy, prayer provides a lifeline. “Through prayer I developed a trust in God,” one person responded. “I believe this single factor of trusting in God has pulled me through some of the toughest trials in my life. Feelings of guilt, depression, and low self-worth would fade away when I realized that I was a literal child of God. I felt my Heavenly Father’s love, and the Holy Ghost would comfort me when I knelt in prayer and sincerely asked for help.”
Once communication with Heavenly Father has been established through prayer, an individual can be led by the Lord’s Spirit through the next steps of healing. These steps, often painful and difficult, may seem almost impossible to take, but they are based on eternal truths and principles of love—and they don’t have to be taken all at once.
“One cold December night, I came to realize that until I believed the Lord and received his word to me through priesthood blessings, counsel, and the scriptures, I would not, could not progress. My emotional and spiritual health, as well as my eternal progression, hinged on this. I had to trust my Heavenly Father!
“How does a person learn to believe spiritual things that are so different from earthly experiences? After many hours of prayer and tears that night, I found the answer in Alma 32:27: ‘But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.’
“When I read those words, I burst into tears. I did have a desire and as I let it work in me, as the scripture promised, I was able to find a place for a portion of his words. Alone and on my knees I felt the Lord ‘take the stony heart,’ and give me a ‘heart of flesh’ (see Ezek. 11:19). A seed had been planted. In the months that followed, the seed seemed to swell. I could feel a change in me.”
Individuals struggling to heal may be led to talk to a bishop or stake president. They may be inspired to trust a friend. The Holy Spirit may impress upon them the importance of attending Church meetings or going to the temple. Daily scripture study becomes an anchor of stability and a source of inspiration. When necessary they are often helped in finding a counselor or therapist who will prayerfully help them on their journey.
“I have been guided to priesthood leaders at various times who have been prepared to offer essential gifts in my healing,” recalled one reader. “My priesthood leaders have often looked scared to death as they have listened to my story and my request for assistance. But all of them listened to the Spirit and were guided in the words they spoke and the role they played.”
One sister was inspired to become more fully involved in Relief Society, and she found exactly what she needed from loving sisters in her ward. “For me, Relief Society has all that any recovery group has to offer, with the added advantage of living in the great association of Latter-day Saints and with the benefit of values and friendships that Heavenly Father would want for me,” she wrote. “What I had to do was take an active part and appreciate the opportunities I found there.”
Another woman found Church attendance to be crucial. “For me, consistent Church attendance was absolutely necessary,” she said. “If it is hard to pray, it seems impossible to even think of attending church, especially if you have a family. But as I partook of the sacrament, I felt the Holy Spirit. My children learned about reverence and felt the spiritual atmosphere in the meetinghouse. Consistency was crucial; it brought close friendships and a positive influence on my children.”
Temple attendance proved key for another healing soul. “Much of my journey to healing was accomplished within the walls of the holy temple. We live 12 hours from the temple, but there were times when I knew that I had to go. Every time the way was provided and the means opened up. I have never felt the Savior’s love nor his presence more than I did in that sacred building. I also have never cried more nor felt like my heart could break more than I did during those trips. I know that the Savior walked with me during those times. The most spiritual experiences I have ever had came during those trips to the temple.”
Priesthood blessings and patriarchal blessings can be wonderful sources of comfort and light. “In my darkest moments I was always somehow guided to my patriarchal blessing,” one member wrote. “Therein were words of hope and descriptions of a life filled with joy, love, an eternal family, and the gospel. Often I would plead with God to help me believe that those blessings could really come true for someone as pathetic as I felt. I literally clung to the blessings promised, with hope that I could be happy someday. My testimony grew as I saw the Lord fulfilling promised blessings in my life.”
In addition to guiding an individual to find outside sources of healing, the Lord’s Spirit will also lead the humble, honest soul to discover sources of healing from within.
“I felt the Spirit prompting me, telling me it was time to go on,” one sister recalled. “I knew I would never forget what happened to me; I don’t believe anyone who has endured any kind of abuse completely forgets what happened. But I believe it is possible to let go of the anger and the pain and once you do that, the memories dim and a feeling of strength can replace other feelings. Initially I learned simply how to survive what I had been through, but now, with my testimony of the gospel firmly grounded, I am learning to live.”
Somewhere along the journey of healing comes the essential task of forgiving. Often the command to forgive (see D&C 64:10) seems almost more than one can bear, but this eternal principle can bring lasting peace.
“My study of the gospel has shown me that forgiveness is not only for the abuser but also for oneself,” said one woman. “Forgiveness does not condone the abuse. I love that truth that although I need to evaluate situations, being wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove [see Matt. 10:16], I do not need to condemn or judge my abusers nor be part of the punishment. I leave all that to the Lord. I used the principle of forgiveness to strengthen me.”
Another person said: “I understood that by holding on to the pain, I had allowed the abuse to continue. Forgiveness in no way excuses the offender or minimizes the seriousness of the transgression, but it does take care of my responsibility toward the offender, and it is Christlike.”
In April 1994 general conference, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of healing, testifying that “the surest, most effective, and shortest path to healing comes through application of the teachings of Jesus Christ in your life” (“To Be Healed,” Ensign, May 1994, 9). Those who shared these experiences agreed.
“The guidelines of the Church have been pillars of strength for me to follow,” one woman said. “When I followed the commandments the quality of my life improved. The Church is the sure foundation of truth and righteousness.”
Over and over, responses affirmed that through obedience and faith, they found answers, they made progress, and they felt hope.
“I am learning that I really do have worth, that Heavenly Father and Jesus love me, and that I have not been cast by the wayside,” wrote one member. “Even in my darkest moments the gospel was a distant light, drawing me onward with hope.
“A scripture that struck me at the time I began counseling was Alma 60:23: ‘The inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also.’ I interpreted this to mean in my situation that only by facing and coming to terms with those emotions and conflicts deep within—my inward vessel—would I be able to alter and control my conduct and behavior—the outward vessel—and be able to live an open and straightforward life.”
Another person’s favorite scripture was 3 Nephi 12:44–45 [3 Ne. 12:44–45]: “But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
“That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.”
She adds: “These words have helped me understand that I can replace my identity as the unloved child of earthly parents with the knowledge that I am the beloved child of my Father in Heaven. This relationship becomes more real and powerful to me as I follow his ways and strive to forgive those who have hurt me.”
When asked about children being born into abusive situations, Carlfred Broderick, a family therapist and professor of sociology, answered, in part: “My experience in various Church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to ‘metabolize’ the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed” (“I Have a Question,” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 38).
The valiant Latter-day Saints who shared the experiences of their healing journeys have committed to breaking the chains of abuse. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, they are finding the guidance, love, and hope they need to heal and grow.
“I have a long way to go, but I have really made progress,” writes one man. “I am excited about the prospects I have. I am doing constructive things in my home, like daily scripture reading and family prayer. I know it’s possible to survive and even thrive after childhood sexual trauma. I feel I’m living proof.”
“I shudder to think what my life would be like if I hadn’t had the gospel,” another person wrote. “The gospel has been my anchor, mooring, and light shining through the darkness, the only stability I have had, and I have turned toward it for guidance. The gospel taught me how I should live and how to forgive. I learned that only through the Lord Jesus Christ can we find hope and healing. Without the gospel I couldn’t have chosen to learn the positive things my trials have taught me. I discovered that no matter how dark the gathering storm clouds are, or how long the night is, dawn will always come, and there is always joy in the morning” (see Ps. 30:5).