The prevalence of sexual assault and abuse is staggering. Authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have written a timely and much needed resource for the church today called Rid of My Disgrace. One important topic they hit on is the difference between self-help (unfortunately offered to many suffering in our culture at large) and gospel healing (the message we all need to be prepared to share with friends, family, and people in our congregations).
Tragically, positive self-statements “have more impact on people with low self-esteem than on people with high self-esteem, and the impact on people with low self-esteem is negative.” The consequences are that positive self-statements are likely to backfire and cause harm for the very people they are meant to benefit—people with low self-esteem.
This rejection of simplistic self-esteem enhancement methods is not because we want you to continue in self-loathing, but because something better exists. To experience healing and freedom, your identity must be established on the work of Christ, not on the foundation of the shame and self-hate that frequently results from assault. Making a transition from a “victim” identity to an identity in Christ is offered in God’s redemptive work through Jesus. You need to know God’s statements and images about who you are, not self-produced positive statements or the lies being told to you by your experience of disgrace. Confronting your distorted self-image and having your identity reconstructed is not a chore you do but is the fruit of having faith in the person and work of Jesus.
What victims need are not self-produced positive statements, but God’s statements about his response to their pain. How can you be rid of these dysfunctional emotions and their effects? How can you be rid of your disgrace? God’s grace to you dismantles the beliefs that give disgrace life. Grace re-creates what violence destroyed. Martin Luther writes that “the love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.”One-way love is the change agent you need. Grace transforms and heals; and healing comes by hearing God’s statements to you, not speaking your own statements to yourself.
What grace offers to the victim experiencing disgrace is the gift of refuting distortions and faulty thinking and replacing their condemning, counter-factual beliefs with more accurate ones that reflect the truths about God, yourself, and God’s grace-filled response to your disgrace. This is an important point to highlight. We are all powerless to heal ourselves. Research shows that self-help statements have been found to be ineffective and even harmful by making some people with low self-esteem feel even worse about themselves in the long term. As a matter of fact, positive self-statements frequently end up reinforcing and strengthening one’s original negative self-perception they were trying to change.
As we explore the effects caused by sexual assault and how grace can heal them, it is helpful to look at the prayer of Psalm 13. It is a request for God to deal with our sorrow, distress, and disgrace with his steadfast love, in the hope that we may rejoice in salvation:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Excerpt from Rid of My Disgrace by Justin Holcomb and Lindsey Holcomb.
Download a sample chapter.