by Dr. Joann Roof
"I’m afraid I’ll lose control. I’m afraid of my father, of God, of what people will think of me. I’m afraid ‘it’ will catch up with me. I’m afraid my parents will embarrass me. I’m afraid I’ll embarrass myself. My heart will stop. I’m afraid I’ll throw up in front of everybody, and people will talk about me. I’m afraid I’ll jump off the balcony. I’m afraid I’ll die. I’m afraid I won’t. I’m not good enough for my friends. I’m not good enough for God. I’ll be found out. I’m afraid of the shadows on the wall. Someone’s right outside my window waiting. I’m afraid of myself. I’m not talented enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’ll panic. I’m afraid my parents won’t love me anymore. I’m afraid I won’t get everything done. I’ll choke. I’m inadequate. I’m afraid. I’ll go crazy. I’m afraid they’ll lock me up and no one will care anymore. They won’t like me if they really know me. My heart will be broken. I’m not rich enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not smart enough. No one [would] ever be able to love me if they really knew me. I’m afraid to be myself. I’m afraid I have no self. I’m afraid I might fail. What if I succeed? What if it doesn’t happen? What if it does? Why am I so afraid?" (Source Unknown)
Fear, the second major root issue that abuse victims deal with, can come in many forms. Some are not easily identified as being related to abuse suffered as a child. The abuse opens a door that allows the enemy to torment in many seemingly unrelated ways. Fear often begins when the abused child feels unprotected. She feels unprotected by the one who is abusing, but also she loses her confidence that her protectors are able to shield her, and often she questions, sometimes unconsciously, God’s protection. This gives the sense that “it is all up to her.” The door is open for the enemy to send all sorts of distortions into her mind to torment her.
Fears, phobias, anxieties, and panic disorders almost always have their origin in believing something that is not true. According to Dr. Neil Anderson in his book Freedom from Fear, all fears are dependent upon two things: “It (the fear) must be perceived as imminent (present) and potent (powerful).” Dr. Anderson uses the example of a snake. Someone who was visiting Arizona for the first time and had a fear of snakes would be terrified if one slithered across her path. To her knowledge it is present and potent. If a herpetologist came across the same snake and immediately recognized that it was a harmless look-alike of the deadly coral snake would not have any fear. The snake is present but not powerful.
If either the immanency or the potency of the feared object is removed, the fear loses its power. When we believe that we are dependent on someone else other than God for a need, we have fear, because there is always the possibility that person may cease to meet the need. When the victim develops a Biblical fear of God, along with an understanding of her relationship with Him and His protection for her, the fear loses its power.
“Phobias are irrational fears that compel us to do irresponsible things or inhibit us from doing what we should.” They usually have their root in the fear of death, the fear of the enemy, or the victim’s fear of how others will respond to her. There are several phobias the counselor should be alert to in women who have been wounded by sexual abuse. Some of the main fears are fear of being alone, of being vulnerable and unprotected, fear of sex, a fear of men (which can lead to becoming a lesbian), and even an unhealthy fear of God.
Dr. Neil Anderson in his book Freedom from Fear, gives steps to conquer fears. First, the fear must be analyzed by identifying what the victim is afraid of. It also must be determined when she first experienced the fear and the events associated with the fear. Then, the lies behind the fear must be identified. The next step in the healing process is to help the victim identify ways that she has been controlled by fear instead of being controlled by God, how the fear kept her from doing what is right and responsible, constrained her to do what is wrong and irresponsible, and compromised her witness for Christ. She needs to confess these things to God and commit to obey Him. Finally, she should decide how she will respond the next time fear comes. “Fear is like a mirage in the desert. It seems so real until you move toward it, then it disappears into thin air.”
“Anxiety is different from fear in that it lacks an object or adequate cause.” It may be helpful to encourage the victim who struggles with fear or anxiety to make a list of the things that are her responsibility and the things that are God’s responsibility. Then encourage her to ask God’s forgiveness for trying to take responsibilities that belong to Him. It is also a good idea to have her evaluate whether or not what she is fearing will matter for eternity.
Fear generally turns in one of two directions. A woman may develop the more common self-protective, self-sufficient, “I have to take care of and protect myself” mindset and put up walls to protect herself, (a hidden type of fearfulness), or she may panic at her own inability to protect herself and go on to some degree to develop some of the disorders we more commonly associate with fear like phobias and panic disorders.
The Tough Girl
The self-sufficient, “I must protect myself” person often develops problems in her life which from a surface glance, would not be seen as a fear problem. Dr. Dan Allener, in his book, The Wounded Heart, describes this type of woman’s personality:
The Tough Girl is the classic take-charge, task-oriented, no-nonsense ramrod. The hardness is often the result of being controlled by other-centered contempt. She is a woman who lives behind thick, impenetrable walls that keep people from drawing close. Internally, she is above her own feelings, suspicious of others' motives, and arrogant, and angry in her evaluations of others. She views human need as childish and unnecessary. She views her longings as sentimental, sloppy, and weak. She believes emotions are to be conquered and controlled. so that no one can cause her pain again. She is suspicious, critical, arrogant and angry.
Tough Girls can often spot a phony miles away. They are in control. They know how to run their families, invest their money, and run the youth group. The Tough Girl may not "enjoy" fights, but she is willing to go toe to toe in heated combat for the sake of her black-and-white values. The people in a Tough Girl's domain react to her hostile edge, control, and impenetrability by keeping their distance. Often they respect the accomplishments or boldness of her will, but they do not enjoy her presence or essence. She makes a great surgeon, trial lawyer, or prime minister, but not a desirable friend, spouse, or parent.
In her effort to protect herself, the Tough Girl often becomes controlling. She has the maddening task of controlling everything around her, because she has not learned to allow the Lord to be her protector. She has not learned that “the peace of God orders our internal world not our external world.” It is important to note that a woman with this mindset will tend to look down on women who show signs of the more obvious fear disorders. She sees this as weakness. Since she despises the weakness in her own life, she reacts to weakness in others. Ironically, in order for her to heal she will need to face the weakness in her own life and allow the Lord to be her protector.
One of the problems that can develop as a result of the self-protective mindset is codependency. Codependence is taking care of other people’s problems, so that one does not have time to address her own. “A codependent person is ‘addicted,’ not to a destructive substance, but a destructive pattern of relating to other people, … Codependency holds a person hostage to other people’s behaviors, moods, or opinions, and the codependent bases his or her worth and action on someone else’s life. It’s a terrible bondage.”
The following is a selected list of the characteristics of someone who is codependent, from the book, Codependent No More:
·They become excessively worried about, and preoccupied with, a problem or person. ·They may become obsessed with, and controlling of, the people and problems in their environment. ·They may become reactionaries, instead of acting authentically of their own volition. ·They may become emotionally dependent on the people around them. ·They may become caretakers (rescuers, enablers) to the people around them (firmly attaching themselves to other’ need for them.) ·They try to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation, or domination ·They try to prove they're good enough to be loved
There are two types of codependents. The passive codependent attempts to control by using crying, hurt, and helplessness. The aggressive codependent uses violence, anger, intimidation, and dominance. Either way the codependent is a manipulator.
The codependent tries to make everything work out right in her own strength. She has believed that if she can just fix everyone else, her problems will go away. Nancy Groom says, “At the heart of codependent living is an arrogant and fear-based refusal to rely solely on God, an unwillingness to rest in His grace, to be satisfied with His provision and to set our hearts on obedience. Codependency is not just unhelpful but dreadfully and crucially wrong.”
The codependent needs to face her pain and allow God to control her life. She needs to understand that peace is not a result of people or circumstances, but is the result of a trusting relationship with her Heavenly Father. She needs to trust Him to bring healing in the areas that she is afraid to face.