Using Childhood Abuse to Cultivate Compassion
Updated: Mar 8
Danielle Benson, second from left, during one of her past visits to the Philippines. A current student at William Jessup University, Danielle has interned with Love Forward while studying psychology and pursuing her calling as a future therapist. In this blog post, Danielle shares her personal journey and the roots of her compassion for the students of Love Forward.
I walked into a softly-lit room with a sofa and a pink cushioned chair. A young woman was standing there smiling at me. Her cheerfulness was a welcoming sight, though I was only beginning to process where I was. Then I noticed the woman held a yellow lined notepad. I saw this in a movie! I thought. People come in and share their feelings, and this person writes them down. This was my first experience of psychotherapy as a young child.
I understood from the first session that I was there to talk about my experience with a young boy who had played with me in a way that concerned my mom. During my last play date with him, my mom walked in on him being abusive toward me. I am thankful my mom was able to intervene when she did. This had unknowingly been going on for two years.
As a very young child who was experiencing abuse, I later acted out what was happening to me on another child. This was the source of my deepest shame. I believed I was a monster for hurting another child like I had been hurt. I worried that this little girl would also end up in therapy like me.
I remember vividly waking up one morning with God gently urging me to tell my mom what I had done. It felt like the most shameful thing I had ever done. Shortly afterwards, my mom talked with the parents of the other girl. She explained to them everything that had happened. But rather than shunning me, the other family still welcomed me into their home. They never held back any love for me. To this day, this family remains among my closest friends, and their love has been one of the most powerful examples of God’s tangible love and grace towards me.
As a young girl, it was during my ongoing therapy with Stephanie Banning that I first knew I wanted to become a therapist. I wanted to help other young girls who had experienced some form of abuse. Stephanie made a significant change in my life and in my very person, as she helped me process the abuse that I had experienced and how it had impacted my behavior toward others. With her help, over a period of many years, healing came into my life, one layer at a time. That experience has led directly to my compassion for other abused girls and my commitment to have a similar impact in their lives, especially those who have suffered great pain or loss.
Healing is a life-long journey. After processing my early childhood, I continued to face varying challenges throughout my teenage years, including depression, severe anxiety, and self-harm. I continued to see therapists off and on, and for the past three years, while attending university, I have been taking antidepressants to help with my anxiety. But as I continue on this road toward healing, my calling to serve others as a therapist has only grown stronger. Several times during my high school years, I traveled to the Philippines to volunteer with the Arms of Love Children's Home in Bohol, where some of the Love Forward students spent their years growing up.
I am currently in my last year of college studying counseling psychology and Bible theology at William Jessup University. I plan to begin a Masters program in Marriage and Family Therapy after I graduate. During this past year, for my internship, I chose to volunteer with Love Forward, working with Lovely Granada, the national director in the Philippines. In addition to supporting Lovely, I have had the opportunity to video conference with many of the Love Forward students and encourage them as a friend and a peer who is attending college in another part of the world.
When the students share about their past experiences of abuse, it is difficult for me to not focus on the trauma. My heart hurts to learn about the injustice that was done to them. Many had their innocence taken at a young age and others grew up living off and on the streets. The challenges that lie ahead include not only healing from their pasts, but succeeding in their present courses of study so they can break the cycles of poverty and abuse and realize a brighter future.
Working with the Love Forward students has shown me the inter-relationship between our past and our future. For example, while you are driving, it is critical to look at your rear view mirrors, side mirrors, and glace over your shoulder before changing lanes. If you miss any of these steps, you may get into an accident. But it is equally important to not allow your gaze to linger too long behind you, or you can be injured by not seeing what is rapidly approaching you!
The same is true in life. We need to balance looking behind us and looking ahead of us. Just as a driver checks her rear view mirror, we sometimes need to look behind us, or we will miss an opportunity to find more healing and to develop empathy and compassion for others. But if we never stop looking behind us, we will not see what is ahead of us. We must focus on the road ahead, or we will lose opportunities for our further growth and for sowing love and healing into the lives of others.
I look forward to continuing this journey God is leading me on. God is my ultimate physician, greatest therapist, and loving Father. In the Gospel of John it is written, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:4-5.
Danielle video-conferencing with Lovely Granada and several of the Love Forward students in the Philippines during a recent lunch gathering and afternoon seminar on healing.