Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ambivalence and Self-Contempt

Today I finished the chapter on Ambivalence in The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Workbook by Dan Allender that I began a month and a half ago. It has been hard slogging and produced many tears. I'd like to quote a few parts (note that the "we" and "us" refers to those of us who were sexually abused as children):

"Ambivalence can be defined as feeling two contradictory emotions at the same moment....An experience of relational pleasure...or sensual pleasure...or sexual pleasure....will arouse deep parts of the soul. Sexual pleasure in particular is both frightening and stimulating to a young child....When the same pleasure is connected with the experience of being powerless, betrayed, and used, then untold damage will occur....The inevitable feelinegs of both enjoyment and shame produce the anguish of ambivalence. Central to understanding ambivalence is the fact that the very thing that was despised also brought some degree of pleasure." (page 107, emphasis is in the original)

"Because of our abuse, most of us struggle with mixed feelings about sex, being feminine or masculine, being attractive or unattractive, being friends or lovers." (page 107)

"Asking for cuddling wasn't the same as asking for sex." (page 109)

"In our heads, intimacy (which we long for) is forever fused to sexuality (which we both desire and detest). Therefore, we reason, the longing for intimacy is a longing for sexual passion. But passion, as we have experienced it in abuse, destroys. Therefore, the longing for intimacy is dangerous and must be either avoided or conquered....Intimacy is tinged with the idea of exclusivity and uniqueness appropriate to intercourse in marrage....there is always a part of us that hopes any relationship will go deeper." (page 113)
What particularly spoke to me because it describes me so well is:
“...A woman may hug another woman and feel that thrill of terror/pleasure that for her means this is intimacy; therefore, this is sexual; therefore, I want this to go deeper to exclusivity; therefore, this is dangerous.

“The pleasure of intimacy produces a passion not just for more relationship, but for relationship on a deeper level.

“The relationship may in fact go no further than casual talks and friendly hugs, while in one person’s mind the longing for more either whispers or shouts in fantasies. It may deepen to the exclusivity of best friends. Or the “chemistry” (that is really confusion between intimacy and sex) may draw the two into a lesbian affair. This is not a sign that one of both was both “gay” and didn’t know it. It is just the same kind of sexualisation that occurs between a woman and a man.

“But the agony of same-sex encounters is that the shame is far harsher. This woman, even if she just has fantasies, is guilty not only of lust but of perversion. Being attracted to a man is at least “normal.” (page 114)

"...for many of us, pleasure beyond the danger zone is off limits. We have to watch and control both longings and pleasures to make sure they don't get out of hand. If a relationship or success begins to give us joy, we have to crack down to make sure we don't go wild." (page 117)
Ambivalence. It shows itself not only in relationships but in many other facets of life. My doctor tells me that I don't trust myself. This is true. I also have the strong self-contempt described in this chapter. I know what I am capable of doing that is wrong (e. g. sexualizing a friendship outside of marriage) or "not best" (such as decisions about eating) and I'm afraid that if I don't keep myself on a short leash, I will do all that I shouldn't.

Allender points out that Jesus also experienced ambivalence--conflicting desires--as he faced the cross:
"He resolved His struggle enough to see His mission through without flinching, even though the agony of separation was intense. And having chosen to be human, He couldn't do anything about His body's loud protests against beatings and crucifixion. Bodies (as abuse victims know well) respond as they were built to respond, no matter what contrary decisions their owners make." (page 124)
In the midst of his conflicting desires, he chose obedience to God over what his body demanded--release from the pain he experienced--and, through his obedience, became a Victor who has rescued us from our ambivalence and made it possible for us to make God-honouring choices.

In Romans 7, Paul describes the ambivalence we all experience: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (verse 15) and asks, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" and answers immediately, "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! ... Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...." (7:25a, 8:1a)

To live in that place of no condemnation because I've been rescued from this body of death by Jesus, to not let my ambivalence control or discourage me, to live in obedience with no self-contempt for unwelcome thoughts--this is the challenge.

Lord, thank you for rescuing me from death and enabling me to choose obedience. Continue to help me--especially in those areas where I still struggle. Help me to relinquish my self-contempt and live in the freedom that only you can give.

2 comments:

gilley said...

I am proud of you. The journey that you have chosen to travel is a diffcult one and a long one. It takes great courage and determination and that is just to make the decision to begin the journey, then each time you read a word, you must search for your wise mind to keep self judgement in check and not let the contradictory emotions lie to you. Sexual abuse distorts everyting and trying to find what is real is a search that takes you to places that are so difficult to be. Always remember two things - God is not a God of confusion. when the emotions come crashing in from every direction find what is true and the truth will set you free. You are so wise . . . listen to your wise mind, not fear.

Debbie Haughland Chan said...

Thank you, Jeanie. Thank you for the advice. I need it today.