Spiritual Direction & Childhood Abuse | Spiritual Directors International

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Spiritual Direction & Childhood Abuse

Guest Author: 
Diane Hogan

I’ve heard survivors of sexual abuse say “I can’t pray because I was abused by a priest. [If I try to pray,] I feel victimized all over again.” These words have stayed with me and inspired me to really look at what I call our inner voice and how certain obscurities may prevent its fluidity and its positive influence in our lives. 

The inner voice contains the truth we hold about ourselves: “I’m good/bad,” “I’m concerned/not concerned,” “I’m favorable/unfavorable to my parents,” etc. It also contains the spiritual side to self. We often refer to our inner voice as coming from our inner sanctum. This is a place where we may pray, commune with God, contemplate, meditate, reflect on our passage in time and make moral sense of what has happened. Our inner voice may express our confession to God and others based on our reflections, our thoughts and discernment, which we may deem as our truth. (Confession, here, alludes to bearing witness to our truth, to  our reality.)

So, the question is: what if this truth is obscured by the “voice” of another? What if this place within me, my inner sanctum, has been sabotaged by the overpowering agent I call my abuser?  How do I free myself from this disturbance/obscurity within me?

When I studied education, we learned how to detect signs of the abused child. One such sign is the apparent inability to learn. I learned that if the child has been yelled at often, called derogatory names and treated with aggressive intolerance, she loses connection with her inner voice. Without that inner voice, the child cannot learn.  In such child abuse, the inner voice is obscured with hateful and derogatory words about self.  These words. subjected upon the child by an outside, overpowering voice, break down the child’s intrinsic motivation to learn.

I believe spiritual direction may be the engagement needed to allow for the self to disengage from this obscure voice that is holding her hostage, and to reclaim her own voice/truth. I have studied spiritual direction and I have also been accompanied, which is the basis upon which I present this thesis. Based on my experience with spiritual direction, the director is questioning/guiding the directee in a way that allows her to uncover and share the truth/reality of her story. This sharing of the “inner voice” that belongs to the directee takes both parties (director and directee) on a contemplative journey into what we call the self’s sacred story.  In other words, each one’s truth is sacred. 

Finding one’s own voice/truth is a spiritual way to move towards healing. To heal the spiritual self is often overlooked in our day and age. That doesn’t mean that psychological and psychiatric treatments are not as accountable. They are often essential.  But focusing our attention upon the creative side of our being, our spiritual domain, is often ignored. 

One knows when one is starting to heal spiritually. If I may use a Christian term to describe it, you will find that “it will bear good fruit.”  We may say that by bearing one’s own truth, there may also be conceived the good fruits of happiness, purpose, peace and justice.


Diane writes: "I am from Montreal, Canada, but I presently live in British Columbia, Canada. I am a retired English as a Second Language teacher. I have a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in theology from Concordia University, Montreal. I have also studied spiritual direction for 3 years, and decided to enter the Poor Clare monastery. I left the monastery after a while to continue to live this calling as a lay person, but I also work as a community health worker for the elderly and infirm of my community. I also belong to a facebook group called ‘The Keepers’, who are working for the justice of Sr. Cathy Cesnik, a murdered nun in 1969, whose death may involve certain agents of a sex abuse ring headed by a priest, Joseph Maskell, in Baltimore, Maryland. The Keepers also are concerned for the sex abuse survivors and work to raise funds for their ongoing treatment.

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