Sexual abuse is not a subject that people really enjoy talking about. It is a complicated, messy, and very painful subject. However, that is also the subject of the book that I’m looking at today. I’m looking at The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender. So fair warning that we’ll be talking at least to some degree about sexual abuse, since that is what the topic of the book is.
Before getting into my thoughts about the book I feel I need to make a couple things clear. First, this is a book geared towards those who have experienced sexual abuse, and that is something that I have never experienced. I have also never known anyone who has divulged such abuse to me. So I’m coming at this book from a very outside perspective.
The second is that this book is geared towards Christians. The title doesn’t really indicate that in the least, but it views belief in God as the ultimate way to have hope. I am a Christian so this doesn’t bother me, but I simply think this needs to be made clear at the beginning. With these out of the way let’s proceed.
To be honest, I had very mixed feelings about The Wounded Heart. I found some of it useful, but other aspects of it very troubling. I’ll start with what I found helpful and move to some of the things I disliked.
First, I give him kudos for tackling such a difficult topic. Reading some sexual abuse stories over the past few years, Christians tend to be pegged as people who avoid the reality of sexual abuse and offer few resources to help those who have experienced it. Yet, here was a work that was originally published in 1990. So I give Allender a good deal of respect for offering this resource, even if the execution didn’t set well with me for the most part.
The other aspect of the book I found helpful were the sections where he was focused on the psychological and very little of his theology was evident. I found learning about the dynamics of abuse and also the damage that sexual abuse could do enlightening even while difficult to read and comprehend that such abuse and damage to others happens. When he focused on the psychology side of things, I found him to be more professional in tone. That said, these positives give way to the negatives way too quickly.
The major problem I have with the book is the way he injects Christianity into this process. It seems that his major goal is to make the victim of abuse realize that they are sinners who need God. While admittedly we are all sinners and I understood where he was coming from, the way it was presented troubled me. I could see people who have experienced abuse recoiling from the way it was presented as more burden being placed on them. I also questioned some of the things that he was labeling as sin.
One such example was regarding a woman who was waiting for her father at an airport. They had agreed to meet during a two hour layover she had at the airport. She was looking forward to this meeting and was disappointed that he didn’t show up. This led her to be ashamed of getting her hopes up in the first place, because it appeared this was not new behavior for her father.
Dr. Allender declares this exchange idolatry. That the woman’s worth was being tied up too much to her father’s appearance. I found this very troubling. To simply look forward to a meeting with a parent is idolatry? To feel bad and silly for looking forward to it when it falls through is idolatry? This seems dubious to me. Yet so often this is the way he handles the theological side of the book, with questionable connections like these and a heavy hand. As I said it is not that I disagree with certain aspects. It is just the way he presents them that I find troubling given who he is trying to help here.
I think his work would be much more helpful if it focused on the positive aspects of God’s love for us, his grace, his mercy even for those who have experience abuse. He seems to focus on the victim understanding their sin as the only path towards receiving God’s healing. I don’t find that in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus healed, but you don’t see him requiring a confession of sin before he acts. That doesn’t mean that our sin never needs addressed, it means that God can heal us before our sins are realized. It may even be from that healing that we are able to then confront our sins.
All this to say, that while I found The Wounded Heart helpful in understanding some of the dynamics and damage from abuse, I wonder if it is really that helpful of a book. You may find healing in the pages, but you could also find more pain. I probably wouldn’t really recommend it, but unfortunately I have no other books on the subject I can offer in place of it as of now.