Relationship Connection: I can’t feel God’s love after enduring years of abuse

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Question

I experienced abuse and neglect in my childhood. Once I found God, I thought I could just shut the door on my past and begin a new life learning about a loving God. I jumped in wholeheartedly. I particularly loved the many scriptures and references about the love of God. I longed for the healing power of God’s love to erase the pain of my past and replace it with hope and self-worth.

That is where I have trouble. I know it is crucial to stay connected to the truth of who we are in God’s eyes. My problem is how do I do this when I have never felt these truths?

The trauma of my past really damaged my self-worth, and I have difficulty feeling that God loves or cares about me. Intellectually, I fully believe in a loving God who watches over me and guides me. But on an emotional level, I don’t feel this at all.

I have been praying and studying for decades and attempting to live a good life to the best of my ability. But I am unable to feel it, or feel the truth of who I really am. It is so frustrating and painful. Going to church is starting to be difficult because it feels like every week I am reminded that God loves everyone else but me. I believe in God’s goodness and in my own worth – in my head. But I do not feel it in my heart.

It feels like I endured significant trauma in my childhood, and when I turned to a divine source of healing and love, I was completely ignored. I feel so rejected and abandoned. It is so unbelievably painful! I have sought counseling for this, but I have been unable to resolve it. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer

Your situation is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

It’s heartbreaking to hear of the lifelong struggle to truly feel God’s care and concern in your life. This is one of the most devastating effects of abuse, and I’m deeply saddened to hear of your struggle.

At the same time, you inspire me with your earnestness, your faith, your tenacity and your will to heal the devastating effects of abuse. You haven’t given up hope, and I will do my best to offer some supportive words as you continue forward in your journey of restoration and healing.

First of all, it’s important for you to know that you can be gentle with yourself as you seek healing from the effects of abuse and abandonment.

We are physical, emotional, social and spiritual beings, and when we’re exposed to trauma, abandonment, abuse or other harmful experiences, we have complicated responses that don’t resolve easily. Our bodies are designed to protect us from further harm, so defensive walls go up even when our brain tries to tell our body that we’re not in danger.

Our spirits may feel peace, but then our emotions may play tricks on us and convince us that something else is happening. The process of healing is about slowing down and untangling reactions that are trying to keep us safe. If it feels complicated and slow, please know that it’s not always for a lack of effort on your part.

Continue to seek readings and resources that help you feel comfort as you work through the long and complicated process of healing. Again, please don’t lose hope and give up.

Even though your brain knows that you’re not abandoned by God, your body and emotions will work overtime to protect you from getting hurt again. Even though you might have moments of peace and eventual hope of healing, it can still be frightening and upsetting to feel so alone on a regular basis.

You have likely received lots of encouragement, advice and support from others over the years. I don’t want to pretend for one minute that you haven’t heard this type of encouragement. At the same time, please recognize that trauma can make us easily forget things that are hopeful and true. Continue to embrace those things that bring you comfort and hope, and let them sink in as deeply as your body and emotions will allow.

I am confident that you can get answers and direction for your healing. I have worked with thousands of individuals over the past 20 years who have been led to resources that helped them along in their healing journey.

Even though you have tried many things, I know there are still options for you. You might be directed to a certain type of trauma therapy (there are so many great ones out there – EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Lifespan Integration, Neurofeedback, Emotion Code), medication, setting limits with others in your life, visits with a pastor or other supports.

As you know, it’s a long and difficult path, but please do not believe that you’ve reached the end of the road. Your willingness to continue forward and trust the idea of a loving God who guides your path is a better option than stopping and giving up.

You are fortunate to at least have an intellectual understanding that God loves you. Your body and emotions may not be able to take that in just yet, but hold fast and don’t decide it can’t happen. I’m certain that Christ’s strong rebuke in the Holy Bible toward those who abuse children has something to do with his understanding of how trauma impacts our connection to God.

Perhaps you’ve tried this, but do your best to deeply breathe while slowing down the internal reactivity and fear around not feeling God’s love. Sometimes our earnest efforts can turn into panic, which narrows our ability to be sensitive to delicate feelings.

Instead of trying to frantically find God’s love, continue showing up in places where you can feel peace, and let yourself notice subtle ways that God is surrounding you. It might be a feeling, an observation, a spoken word or a thought. Stay slow and mindful. You’re understandably anxious to feel God’s love and presence. However, your anxiety and fear may be activating those physical and emotional self-protective walls.

There is support, light, hope and goodness all around you. Please don’t give up hope that you can heal. You are a physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and relational being. Make sure you’re getting the support you need in each of these areas so you can experience the healing you seek.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

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