First published in 1989, Dan Allender's The Wounded Heart has helped hundreds of thousands of people come to terms with sexual abuse in their past. Now, more than twenty-five years later, Allender has written a brand-new book on the subject that takes into account recent discoveries about the lasting physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual ramifications of sexual abuse. With great compassion Allender offers hope for victims of rape, date rape, incest, molestation, sexting, sexual bullying, unwanted advances, pornography, and more, exposing the raw wounds that are left behind and clearing the path toward wholeness and healing. Never minimizing victims' pain or offering pat spiritual answers that don't truly address the problem, he instead calls evil evil and lights the way to renewed joy.
25 years ago, Dr. Dan Allender first published The Wounded Heart. This year he returns with Healing The Wounded Heart, which offers Christianity-based thoughts and recommendations for how to successfully come out on the other side of traumas. While the focus in this book is on sexual abuse, Allender does also get into the damage that tends to follow physical and emotional traumas as well. While there have been stacks of books written on the topic, what helps the reader lean into this one is Allender revealing that he himself was a victim of sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse has affected for good and ill everything I have done and likely will do on this earth. The harm from the past simply doesn't go away.
He opens the discussion, so to speak, with looking at the various ways recent generations have been bombarded by sexually explicit material, moreso than our ancestors. Some examples examined include the gradual sexualization of commercials, music videos, even girls' dolls. (Speaking of music videos -- he uses the video for Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again" as a prime example of sexualization too easily influencing youth. Problem is, he spelled it as "Brittany Spears". Had to laugh, thinkin' c'mon man, you want to point fingers at people, at least be decent enough to spell the name right!) He also looks at the rapid growth of internet technology / content and how much more readily accessible it is to the young as opposed to just a few decades ago. Allender points out that recent studies show that these days kids are typically experiencing pornographic materials for the first time when they are between the ages of 10-14 years old. He even mentions something I wasn't even aware was an actual thing -- internet predators using the process of "typosquatting" to lure victims to them.
Pornographers often utilize the technique called "typosquatting," in which frequently accessed children's internet sites that might be misspelled by a child are used as portals to funnel children to pornograpic sites.
Seriously, WHY DOES THIS KIND OF THING EXIST?! The twisted ick of it all!
Being a survivor of physical, emotional and sexual abuse myself as well as being an advocate for helping protect and educate others from ever getting caught in a sicko's web, I was curious what Allender had to say. It was a mixed bag for me, personally. While some of what he had to say really did resonate with me and my past experiences, at other there were passages where he got pretty impassioned -- which was admirable -- but also veered a little further into fire & brimstone preaching than I was comfortable with. (The very last chapter of the book, entitled "Thy Kingdom Come" is pretty much just a sermon all by itself.)There were parts in there where, to me, he did start to sound on the edge of getting a little judgemental about general talk regarding life choices. That and there were a few bits where he seemed to contradict himself. Still, some of the most powerful sections that really spoke to me:
Chapter 3: "The Body's Response To Abuse" (this one chapter was co-written with Dr. Heather Mirous of Northwestern University) -- I had never really thought to connect my current health struggles with what may have been happening years ago inside my body during the time I was trying to survive those traumatic moments.
The abuser woos the child or adolescent through reading the desires of his or her heart. He reads the child's absence of care and attachment through his or her insecurity and begins offering what the child's caregivers have failed to offer. The child is given delight and told secrets. Relational intimacy is then deepened to touch that feels life-giving. Over minutes or months the abuser begins to use the child's desire to annul his or her sense of danger or wrong. The tentacles of the grooming reach deeper until the will of the child is broken. The abuser crosses the line of honor, and sexual abuse occurs... It all happens so quickly that the victim is unable to see the con game of the abuser.
Being an adult looking back on my childhood experiences, that quote above felt almost like a play by play of what happened to me. An eerie gut-punch that was! And that phrase, "crosses the line of honor"... damn, if that doesn't bring back that feeling concoction of confusion and betrayal!
It definitely got me thinking! It was a little scary to learn about the damage these kinds of traumas do to the body's telomeres, but within the book's Appendix section there is reassurance -- Allender mentions that recent research suggests that this damage can be slowed or even reversed with a dedicated body / mind care program, one that includes consistent exercise, balanced diet and proper stress management, among other things. :-)
Chapter 5: "The Damage of Covert Abuse" -- this chapter looks at subtle forms of trauma and abuse that are SO slick that you might not even realize it is actually abusive. This section was particularly eye-opening for me because I've struggled with certain things regarding my relationship with both my parents, things that I had difficulty putting into words but put me at unease. Turns out the things I thought or was told I was being overly sensitive about actually fall under what's called "emotional incest". What makes it tricky is that there might not be any physical harm per se, but standard child-parent boundaries are either broken or non-existent, often leading to a child being subtly emotionally abused and unsafe within the home, the place that a child should know as a safe haven from dangers of the outer world.
Chapter 10: "Caring For Another's Story" -- a vitally important chapter, discussing how one should behave when a friend or family member becomes vulnerable enough to share their abuse story. It took me years to give any details of my past to anyone for fear of being judged, being told I brought it on myself (as I WAS told the very first time I shared anything). I'm so glad Allender thought to include this other side of the equation.
I was also impressed that Allender included a whole chapter on male victims of abuse -- Chapter 6: "Men At War". Yet another super important part of the abuse discussion that too often gets overlooked -- that it IS, as Allender himself is proof of, possible for males to be sexually victimized.
So, for me anyway, this one had its strengths and weaknesses. Not bad for a read-through if this is a topic you are particularly passionate about being educated on, but it wouldn't be my very first recommendation on the subject.
FTC Disclaimer: Baker Publishing Group kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.
If you are interested in further support regarding abuse victims, Dr. Allender also founded The Allender Center, a support and healing facility for victims and their family members. Additionally, there is a supplemental workbook that can be purchased to go along with your reading of Healing The Wounded Heart.