Gwen Purdie, born and raised in Scotland, worked for ten years as a specialist with adolescents and alcoholics. Afterwards she went on to Christian counseling and founded and directed Dove Christian Counseling. She writes her book for the many hurting people who may never be able to “find their way to a counselor nor be able to share their pain with anyone who might help them” (9). She encourages those who are hurting with the truth that “there can be life beyond sexual abuse and beyond all the implications and symptoms that so often accompany such an experience.” But this book is also useful to those who try “to understand the pain involved in sexual abuse and its consequences.”
Mari encouraged me to read this book when we first started dating, but her only copy was in Norwegian and it has taken me a while to get the English copy. This was a very helpful book in revealing the different ways that sexual abuse survivors suffer even long after they have been abused. Purdie writes,
Sexual abuse adversely affects people’s thought life, their decision and choices, and their feelings. It also affects their perceptions of their body, and has relational and social implications. As a result of sexual abuse a person may not be able to enjoy sexual experience in marriage, or may seek comfort through substance abuse or indiscriminate sexual contacts. Relationships can be difficult, especially trusting people and forming new relationships. Past hurts can stand in the way of progress, and there can be anger, depression, lack of confidence and well-being, guilt, self-blame and self-hate (17).
Abuse stunts the growth of the abused and leads to fear and trauma, often with them thinking it is or was their fault. Purdie confirms that “the abuser is solely responsible for the abuse” (18, emphasis mine). What is so damaging is that the abused is “overwhelmed by an abuser’s power” (21). The difficulties that come as a result cause the abused to feel as though they are caught in a tangled web. They often develop coping strategies where they suppress (or even almost forget) memories, regress to a time and an age before the abuse, deny anything happen, or even split personalities (38-48). There are no “easy” solutions here.
This is especially seen in chapter three’s “A Catalogue of Pain.” Gwen lists symptoms and possible ways of dealing with said symptoms. She lists these alphabetically from abandonment, addiction, confusion, contamination, eating disorders, fear, guilt, hatred of self, loneliness, powerlessness, self-harm, shame, and more. Having worked with so many abused people for so long, Purdie gives helpful directions on how to think about the symptoms and how to begin working (however slowly it may be) to get away from that symptom.
Throughout this chapter (and the book) she provides names and numbers to British and Scottish organizations that can help protect and counsel. As well she provides you with people’s stories (with names changed) about how they felt utterly stuck in their situation, but by God’s grace they saw a way out. Usually, the work began very slowly. But many of these people, by God’s grace and with his strength, are able to make progress and move on.
When it comes to trust, Purdie spends chapters five and six on building trust vertically (with God) and horizontally (with others). “The world would be an impossible place if nobody trusted it” (105). Survivors of sexual abuse need to come to see God as a Father who loves, who is present, and who takes nothing from us. Instead, he gives us so much. We have to see all people, including ourselves, as sinners, and to cry out to God for salvation. We receive his forgiveness, and he is faithful and just to forgive us each and every time we ask (1 Jn 1:9). He provides true forgiveness; “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1:7).
Because God can be trusted, we can build relationships with people in the world. It is vital to see where there are poor boundaries and to replace them with healthy ones. Forgiveness is also extremely important, though that can take time to happen as well. Purdie writes, “Forgiveness allows the hurt to be in the past and doesn’t allow it into the future. It also means emotional freedom from the abuser, the destructive relationship, and the hurt and pain that came with it” (136).
If there’s one thing I was disappointed about in this book was the lack of a gospel emphasis. Purdie does point to God the Father and the salvation brought in Jesus in various places in the book, but in the quote above where Purdie talks about the importance of forgiveness, forgiveness has more to do with the “emotional freedom of the abuser” (which is extremely important). She doesn’t mention how we should forgive because God forgave us (Eph 4:32).
What Purdie shows is the many ways sexually abused people suffer ongoing effects, and it serves to show those who have not been abused just what the abused can and do go through. We live in a world where many people have been sexually abused. Working with them and showing them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel requires a lot of time and patience, as well as a lot of grace (87). This is helpful for those who have been abused, for those who know someone who has been abused, for teaches and pastors who will likely meet people who either have been abused or, sadly, will abuse, and for anyone really. Perhaps more than we know, we come into contact with those who have been sexually abused, and we need some categories with which to think about abuse and its ongoing effects, the variety of symptoms people suffer from, and the hope found in the gospel.
- Author: Gwen Purdy
- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Christian Focus (September 20, 2009)
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