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Recovery and the Entire Family

Updated: Jul 4


family reading book together on couch

When it is discovered that one member of our family struggles with sexual brokenness it is tempting to think of recovery as something only for them. However, when one member of our family struggles with sexual brokenness all of us are affected. Every member of the family, children included, will need to work through how they are affected.


We also need to recognize that every member of our family carry wounds of sexual brokenness that came from outside our family. This includes our children. The hyper sexual world we live in impacts all of us in negative ways.


Sexual brokenness is something we work through best with others, not alone. We are created as communal beings. God designed us to journey through healing together, not alone. The journey from brokenness to wholeness in Christ is something the entire family should take together.


Brokenness & Family Relationships


The journey to healing typically begins when one family member’s sexual brokenness is confessed, discovered, or reaches a point that the family can no longer ignore it. That family member could be a mother, father, adult child, or even a child.


The sexual brokenness comes in many forms: things done to us—like past sexual abuse, or things we do ourselves—such as problematic sexual behavior. Sexual brokenness is rarely entirely the fault of the person suffering from it. There is usually a long history of factors outside their control that contributed to their brokenness.


Sexual brokenness is very personal. It hurts in the deepest places of our heart. Sexual brokenness, no matter what the source, causes us to interact with our family in negative, often defensive, ways. Like a wounded tiger, a sexually broken person’s default mode is to react defensively. For this reason, sexual brokenness will negatively affect all surrounding relationships.


Brokenness & the Hot Seat


When a family member’s sexual brokenness comes into the light it can be extremely shaming and uncomfortable for them. That family member suddenly moves into the spotlight of attention within the family, and not in a good way. We should recognize how painful that will be for our family member.


Seeing sexual brokenness in someone we love will also remind us of our own sexual brokenness. Memories of friends showing us pornography as children come flooding back. Uncomfortable feelings resurface as we recall friends telling us graphic sexual jokes. The gut-punch sensation from others who sexually objectified us in the past may return. The shame from past sexual choices can suddenly loom large.


Rather than be reminded of past sexual pain family members can easily resort to redirecting that pain toward the family member who is in the hot seat. We become easily angered by them. We give them the silent treatment. We spend less time with them.


It is true that the sexual brokenness of a family member hurts the rest of us. It is right that we discuss this openly. However, it is unhelpful for every member of the family to not realize how their own past sexual brokenness—the parts not caused by the family member in the hot seat—is being triggered.


When our own sexual brokenness reappears it means it is time for us to start our own healing journey. Repressing sexual brokenness only makes it fester and rot inside. Such hidden brokenness will come out in really ugly ways if we ignore it.


Choosing to Journey Together


May I suggest that rather than focus only on the brokenness of the family member on the hot seat that our families are better off linking arms and taking this healing journey together. What if we all sat down, once the smoke of the initial bomb has cleared, and had a calm but honest discussion of our own histories with sexual brokenness.


I realize that in the case of sexual betrayal the family may need some time, even several months, before this can happen. None-the-less, sexual betrayal is not something that is healthy to ignore. That would be stuffing our feelings of betrayal rather than dealing with them.


We need to remember that children are also affected by the sexual betrayal of a parent, not just the other spouse. All of this will need to be discussed for family healing to happen. At some point, however, even in the case of sexual betrayal, the rest of the family will be better off when they can face their own sexual past as well.


There are a lot of other forms of sexual brokenness besides betrayal. All of them cause us to interact poorly with our family. All of them need attention to heal. Perhaps a family member finally has the courage to bring up sexual abuse they experienced as a child. This very much falls within what we are talking about.


The Brokenness that Comes to Mind


When we feel it is safe the family can begin to share the kinds of sexual brokenness they have experienced. The nude images we saw in National Geographic as a child leaving us confused as to why we wanted to see them again. The creepy person who kept commenting on our body and how that made us feel. Looking in the mirror after a shower and feeling awkward with our body or not liking what we saw. How uncomfortable we felt hearing sexual jokes. Sexual experimentation as a child that left us with feelings we didn’t know what to do with. Someone showing us pornography and feeling ashamed at how much we wanted to see it again. Feeling excited as an adolescent when seeing an attractive person and not knowing if that feeling was good or a sin. Wondering if we were weird for the sexual questions we wondered silently about.


When we dare as a family to be honest about the kinds of things that have affected our sexuality we are beginning to join arms on the journey to wholeness. And, yes, this includes the kids. Think back to how early you experienced some of the things listed above, then realize that kids today typically experience these events a couple of years sooner. Kids need to be able to talk about at least some of these things with the rest of the family.


The Family Journey


CovenantEyes accountability

I realize there are cases where a family member needs to separate for a time or even permanently for the safety of others. Even these families, however, eventually need to work on their own brokenness, including the brokenness caused by the member who had to leave.


When the family stays united, the rest of the family has a support role to play by encouraging the member whose brokenness first came to light. We affirm their efforts at seeking outside help. We can help their hot seat feel a little less warm as we admit our own past sexual brokenness.


As each family member faces the brokenness that starts coming to mind, they may need outside help as well. This could be in the form of a mentor or professional, but it could also be a book or course the family takes together. Either way, this is a journey the family can take together. Families who dare to do this will find deeper relationships waiting on the other side.

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