Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blessing or a Trap?

Self trust. It can be a blessing or a trap.

If you've been abused, all your trust issues have been distorted.

You put your trust in someone who abused that trust horribly. So you don't trust yourself much when it comes to relationships. You don't see yourself as having much of a track record.

If you've neglected self-care for years, which is a common result of abuse, you may not trust your body nor your ability to meet your own needs.

What does the healing of healthy self trust look like? It happens bit by bit, one incident at a time. A bit of self trust is gained when you see yourself taking risks to claim a healthier life. A bit is restored when you see that many of your decisions are good ones. And, a bit more is birthed when you trust your gut and experience to judge whether another person is trustworthy.

With God guiding us, rebuilding self-trust causes a blooming. Like beautiful spring tulips, our soul rises and bursts onto the scene with hope and brilliance. We agree, with inch by inch of growth, with God's perceptions. We discover we can be humble without degrading ourselves, we can accept ourselves because God does and we can use the gifts and talents that He has given us. We can trust Him first, and reap a harvest of huge growth in trusting ourselves.

Without entrusting our healing to God, however, we can wander from self-trust into being ego-centered. We can become a weedy patch of selfishness, or a muddy hole of self-pity, or a thorny stem of revengeful anger. It's just not a pretty scene. God waits for us to repent and let him guide us to the green pasture, while Satan delights in the mess he initiated with your abuse.

The choice really is ours alone. We can choose to add to the damage that has been done to us by trying to be our own untrained doctor. Or we can choose to surrender our self-trust, self-respect, self-love, self-esteem into God's capable hands, trusting that he knows exactly where we are unhealthy and how to best address each issue. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Do you really believe it?

Forgiving Ourselves

I spent years rehashing what had happened in my first marriage. Questioning myself with a judging spirit. Why had I married an abusive spouse? What was wrong with me? Didn't I see signs of warning each time I reviewed our story? How could I have been so stupid?

Have you ever gone there? Judging yourself based on hindsight? Condemning yourself to self-criticism and lowered self-respect?

With God's help, I realized about six years ago that with my refusal to forgive myself I wasn't showing much faith in Jesus' effectiveness as my savior. It was as if I was saying, "Lord, what you did when you died on the cross for our sins was great. It saved everybody. I am so glad that you forgive me, but I have made some mistakes and committed some sins that are unforgivable in my eyes. So I am going to keep punishing myself for the sins you say are covered and taken care of already." There's a perverse pride in this kind of thinking.

Who was I to reject God's verdict? He has declared me forgiven (John 3:16) and righteous (Romans 5:16) in Christ Jesus. I am mixing things up when I put my judgment and self-punishment above God's judgment and mercy. God's mercy flowed freely again as I realized what I had been doing and repented. I can testify that living under God's grace is a far more pleasant path than playing judge over myself. His forgiveness is stunning--and so complete.

God and a kind counselor also helped me see I had a tendency to take on false guilt that really belonged to the abuser. I still tended to blame myself for all abuse that had occurred. I still carried a heavy load of shame. I had unloaded some shame as I recovered, a little bit at a time. This year it has been as if I have unloaded a huge truck load of shame that had still found places to hide inside of my heart, mind, and soul. It is delightful to be separated from that junk. I can see clearly now that in God's perspective the shame of abuse was never mine to carry.

Perhaps, you recognize that you haven't forgiven yourself either. Perhaps you are hard on yourself for not heeding warning signs or for taking too long to end the abuse. Or maybe you've wrongly condemned yourself for things that could not be your fault. Talk to God about it in prayer. He loves you. He would love to see you stop punishing yourself; if you confess, he forgives you (1 John 1:9). He invites you to let go of the "false" guilt issues you may be lugging around; he wants us to let Him carry all of our anxieties (1Peter 5:7). We have nothing to fear anymore (Romans 8:15).


Thank you Readers

I am so excited that people are posting replies now. It is such a pleasure to feel the community of others going through recovery from abuse, too. I am blessed by your honesty and openess.

Plus the ideas to discuss just keep on multiplying. Each bit of experience or insight shared benefits every person who comes to this blog.

Thank you!

And as a reminder, those who come and go anonymously--just take what you need. God bless you on exactly where you are in your journey of healing. If you ever want a private discussion with me, just email me directly at TanyaTWarrington@google.com.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Trusting Yourself Fallacy

Trusting Yourself Fallacy

Trusting in yourself is not always beneficial. An abuser destroys a person's sense of self worth and robs his/her victim of decision-making power. So, although others mean well when they tell a victim to trust herself--they are not comprehending what a difficult task they are assigning. It is like asking someone to meet you 5 miles north, not realizing that her compass is broken and is pointing south when it indicates "North.”

It is important to remember this broken compass when we try to help someone else who is still living in abuse. After we've spent some time healing and operating in a non-abusive environment, it is easy to forget just how broken a victim is.

When I lived in abuse daily, I thought I had very little value, so when I made decisions I was oriented in that direction. I made many decisions on the assumption that I had little value. So when my boyfriend grabbed me and shoved me into his car right after I told him "No! I don't want to come with you right now, " I did not flee and I did not break up with him. I trusted myself, following my inner guidance system accurately--but it led straight into more abuse, rather than away from trouble.

In those days of abuse, I believed I somehow deserved abuse. I didn't know what I had done, but I firmly believed it must be my fault. So, my faulty compass gave confirmation that there was nothing wrong with me being abused. With that information guiding me, I didn't specifically ask for help from God or people. Who asks for rescue when they merely face "normal" life?

Before ending abuse in my life, non-abusive men seemed kind of boring. I was used to a more intense life. I didn't know how to have fun, not really. My broken compass was turning me around, back toward abusers.

So let's be careful how much we encourage abuse victims to trust themselves. Some victims will steer themselves straight to an early death.

There is an important part of healing that restores our ability to trust ourselves in healthy ways. I'll write about that in the next post.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Trusting God

One May my mother sent me a little wallet card with my name and a Bible verse that read: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). I was amazed and touched. My Mom had never sent me anything Christian before. I kept the card with me and pondered its meaning. A month later, I got a greeting card from a friend that included the same verse. I knew it wasn't a coincidence. I knew God wanted me to focus on the verse. "I trust you, Lord" was my heart's response, "Help me to trust you even more."

About a week later or so, my whole life changed. I turned a corner and saw my husband choking our five year old son. It was as if a curtain had risen and shown a terrifying tableau and my denial shield fell to the ground. I knew I needed to save my children from my husband's violence. His storms against me was one thing, but our children needed to be safe. I knew our marriage could not continue as it had been up to that point. I went to a shelter and began taking a women's class on domestic violence to try to figure out what to call the last 14 years of marriage and what to do to change our home. The first day of class I learned that I was an abused wife with a husband who used many forms of abuse to control me.

Many things good and bad happened over the next 6 weeks. A friend who had no idea what was happening in our home, stopped me at church, handing me a card and saying, "I saw this a few days ago and thought of you. I think God might want you to have it." It was the same verse again: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."

I gripped it tightly. I knew I needed to trust God wholeheartedly during this traumatic time.

About two weeks later, I was praying late into the night, asking God for help. I needed God to show me what to do. I was horribly stressed, confused, and frightened by how threatening my spouse had been that evening. The tension was high and I knew his next angry explosion would happen soon. Suddenly, I heard the loudspeaker version of God's voice saying loud enough to rise above my frantic thoughts, "It is time to leave, Tanya. After he leaves the house for work, you need to take the children and leave."

My thoughts churned. "Leave? Where? Where can I go? For how long? What kind of leaving are we talking about?"

"Trust me, Tanya, and lean not on your own understanding."

Suddenly my mind stopped whirling. I had an assignment from God and I was going to obey. I would leave with my children. More details slid into place in my mind. I knew where we would go, a friend's home in another state. I knew I would need to pack quickly and lightly as soon as my husband went to work.

I got up an hour early and mopped my kitchen tile floor, killing time. I was still in shock, but I was clear headed just the same. God was leading me and I did not need to fully understand where he was leading me.

After my husband left for work, I called three people to let them know what I was doing and why. Then I wrote a note to my husband letting him know that I needed to think and that we'd call him in a few days. I knew as the kids and I put backpacks in the trunk, that I didn't know how long we would be gone. I wondered if my husband would finally come to his senses. As I buckled my youngest child into his carseat, I longed for a better home, one without anyone trying to control others, a safe home for everyone under the roof.

I put the car in reverse and backed out our long driveway. Just as I pulled out of the driveway and began driving forward, I looked back at my home--and the rear view mirror fell down onto the floor. "So much for that. No more looking back," I thought, driving off into a new, completely unknown future. I was trusting in God alone. It was enough.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Forgiving God

It may seem sacrilegious to think about, let alone talk about, forgiving God. We know that God doesn't sin so how can we forgive him? But, nonetheless, forgiving God is a very important step along the journey of healing from abuse.

I've never met a victim of abuse who has not been haunted by God questions sometime along the way. Where was God? Where was he when abuse happened to you or to a loved one? Why didn't he just stop it? He's all powerful so he could have stopped it. Why did he choose to allow it?

The questions are real and cut deeply. Were we not valuable enough to save? Didn't God care that our world was being torn apart by physical or emotional violence?

Some of you have heard of God rescuing others from a horrible crisis--so where was He when you needed him?

My heart goes out to all those who are in this spot. I've been there too and I know that it hurts. It hurts so much that I wouldn't look at it for a long time. When I finally did go there, I had a wise person tell me, "It's okay to tell God that you are angry and that you don't understand." I took the advice literally.

And God was okay with it. Over the months and years that have since passed, God has answered my questions. Not with placating or triteness. Not with politically correct answers. He answered with truth and with love. He answered using my personal Bible study, the sermons at church, things that children said, words on the radio, beautiful music lyrics, and the words of caring friends. He helped me to hear why He didn't rescue me in the way that I longed for.

Instead of finding a hollow, useless God, I've learned that God is more compassionate, more kind, more wise, and more powerful than I originally thought. I also found out that he cares about me in a very personal way and loves me more deeply than I ever would have thought possible. God does not leave us alone. He is with us in everything--even the most horrifying moments.

I also learned:
  • God doesn't force people to do things; he invites them. We are not puppets--and neither are abusers. We all have free will. So sin happens.
  • God abhors oppression and bondage. He hates violence.
  • God is just, and justice will be done. God is never fooled. Mercy will be given to those who seek God--and justice will be given to those who cling to evil and refuse to seek God with sincerity.
  • God instructs husbands and wives to treat each other well.
  • God is never wrong, never fails, never lies, never breaks promises, and never abuses.
  • God understands us better than we understands ourselves.
  • God is good.
  • God is pleased when we talk to him, even when we're mad.

Interview Notice

Today I will be interviewed on blogtalkradio at 2 PM on the Susan Murphy Milano show. Susan is an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She is hosting a discussion with a pastor, myself, and herself. If you are interested but are unavailable don't worry. Blogtalkradio allows you to access programs afterwards. Hear the interview any time at blogtalkradio.com/susanmurphymilano.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Time to Act Quickly

Denial puts life into slow motion. It slows down our response time--as our filter between ourselves and reality interferes with direct processing.

I remember taking forever once to pour a glass of ice tea, because being in the presence of one of my abusers had me moving like a sloth. I don't know what was said before I went to pour the tea, that information has been forgotten. But I do remember wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I moving so slowly? My subconscious already knew why, but my conscious mind was clueless.

I remember another time of staring at a bruise unable to remember how I got it. That was in the morning. It wasn't until that evening, when I suddenly knew where the bruise came from--my husband had squeezed that spot really hard just the day before. There is nothing wrong with my cognitive skills. The tremendously slow remembering rate was due to the power of my denial rather than the weakness of my mind.

Denial helps protect us from what we are afraid we cannot handle. And generally speaking, denial can melt away at the perfect time--when you are stronger or in a better place to process the facts of the abuse and your feelings about it.

But, if you know someone who is being abused physically by her or his partner and has been threatened by their partner with a weapon or has been delivered a murder threat, time has run out for your friend to move slow. It is time to do everything in your power to get this friend to understand that she/he is in real danger.

Try asking direct questions ("Do you really believe...), share your story of surviving abuse and your recovery journey, help your friend to depersonalize the situation by having her/him think about what he/she would say if you were the one in her/his situation.

Sharing these facts may help you to persuade your friend that the danger is real:
  • In 2000, 1,247 women and 440 men were killed by an intimate partner. In recent years, an intimate partner killed approximately 33% of female murder victims and 4% of male murder victims. [Callie Marie Rennison, U.S. Dep't of Just., NCJ 197838, Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief: Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, at 1 (2003), available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/ipv01.pdf]
  • Access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide when considering other factors of abuse, according to a recent study, suggesting that abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners. [ Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al., Risk Factors For Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From A Multi-Site Case Control Study, 93 Am. J. of Public Health 1089, 1092 (2003), abstract available at http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/93/7/1089]
  • Of females killed with a firearm, almost two-thirds were killed by their intimate partners. The number of females shot and killed by their husband or intimate partner was more than three times higher than the total number murdered by male strangers using all weapons combined in single victim/single offender incidents in 2002. [The Violence Pol'y Ctr., When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2002 Homicide Data: Females Murdered by Males in Single Victim/Single Offender Incidents, at 7 (2004), available at http://www.vpc.org/studies/wmmw2004.pdf]
But, never forget, it is not your job to make another do something. No matter how much you care about this friend you cannot make her/him take quick action. Her/His denial stacks the deck against you, unfortunately. You can try to help, but you cannot protect this friend from her/his choices. Then again, your attempt to help may save a life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cutting through the Fog

Fog blurs the landscape, making it all soft and indistinct. Yesterday, fog enclosed our home. In the close distance snow fell creating a beautiful winter wonderland. But beyond the fog, we couldn't tell what was going on. We were an island and it felt snug. I found myself assuming that everywhere out there, beyond the fog, must be snowing too. The funny thing is when the fog lifted this morning we saw that our mountain was covered--but down in the valley they didn't receive any white stuff at all.

It reminded me of living in a fog while I lived with abuse. Especially my years as an abused wife. I used to feel "foggy" frequently. My brain power just seemed to shrivel. I often felt like I didn't know what had just happened. Everything felt so confusing and unclear. I could have sworn I knew something, and then I didn't. I walked around not really feeling fully present. I didn't even know how I felt. I was numb. I was shut down.

The first months after I left abuse, I felt shocked and thrilled to see so clearly. The confusion dropped away. The fog evaporated at a fairly steady rate. I re-discovered that not everyone lives in fear. Not everyone is frequently attacked verbally and/or emotionally by the one who supposedly loves them most. Not every home is a danger zone. Not everyone is on high alert all the time.

I wanted the life of new possibilities that I saw beyond the fog. I was timid and unsure of myself, to be sure, but I knew that I could never again settle for an abusive relationship. I decided that I would learn to face everything head on, and leave foggy denial far behind.

Have you experienced the disorientation of dwelling in a foggy land of denial? Have you made any decisions concerning denial?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How an Abuser Tricks You with Apologies

I used to assume that any apology from my first husband was a sign that he was willing to change his behavior. As the apologies stacked up, I thought he was trying but just wasn't having much success. Regardless of my conscious thoughts, my emotions took each apology to mean that from now on there was a fresh start, signifying a significant new shift in commitment and behavior.

It didn't matter how optimistic I was, however. Near the very end of our relationship, I knew he'd never change-- not unless he sought help and then fully engaged in the healing process. When I went to a domestic violence shelter and began an educational class on abuse dynamics, he began participating in an abuser support group. My battered hopes soared once again. Maybe, this last apology had been real, maybe now he'd change. It turned out that he spent his sessions lying, recoloring what had happened to make himself look like the concerned, overconscientious guy who was married to a paranoid, oversensitive gal. He was committed to damage control, not to repentance and growth.

Perhaps you've been on a similar roller coaster ride that involves apologies. How do abusive people trick normal intelligence people (and even above average intelligence people) into believing insincere apologies? I'm not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or sociologist. I have no studies proving my ideas, but for what it's worth here are some things I've observed.

Abusive people regularly, even habitually, use our assumptions against us.

They know that we believe that we aren't "stupid enough" to be manipulated.

They know that we want to believe that our partner or parent is a good person.

They know that is the human tendency to assume that others are telling us the truth, especially if they are in our inner circle.

With these assumptions in place they have plenty of room to work on us. Following are some tricks of the trade.

1. They dangle a pretty lure:

  • They make an apology a romantic production.They sweep us away with romance and chivalry. The beast is gone and the prince or princess of our dreams has arrived. Romantic words tickle our ears and romantic gestures abound. We are bedazzled and assured that the other one who hurt you isn't real, this kind person is his or her "true" self.
  • They give great gifts. After "rough patches" or "tensions" have occurred, an amazing gift arrives. We feel touched. Who would spend such a lavish amount, if they didn't care?

2.They pull a bait and switch:
  • They apologize for nothing in particular. In the same way that readers fill in a missing word when they are reading an article, we fill in the particulars for them.
  • They apologize for the wrong thing. For example, if he bruised your arm he might say, "I'm so sorry that I was cranky earlier today."
  • The apology includes the claim that he/she has been trying really hard to change.He or she looks at us with a very earnest face. We are wired to root for the hardworking underdog, so we react. Our actual experience is that nothing has changed, but he/she insists that he/she is doing much better really and why haven't you noticed. You haven't noticed because it isn't real. But you assume he/she would be telling the truth, so you beat yourself up for not noticing the improvement and being "so particular and hard-hearted."
  • The apology is really about blaming someone else. We notice how quickly the apology turns to talking about work or other family, etc--but we discount it. We accept the half phrase of apology and try to catch up with the conversation. Or we object at the fast shift and he/she looks at us with shock and then hurt. How could we miss their sincere apologies? Don't we trust them and believe in them? The hook is set, we feel bad about doubting them or about not paying attention and we rush to reassure them.

3. They use a hook with a wicked barb:

  • They apologize in a way that makes you feel bad. After you complain about verbal abuse, she might say, "I'm sorry. I know that you're really sensitive. I'm sorry I'm always making you mad by saying the wrong thing. I should know by now that I need to be extra careful about what I say around you." The barb is set, you forget about what she did and worry about what is wrong with you that she needs to be so careful.
  • The apology is accompanied by emotional and/or physical withdrawal. The apology you are looking for after abuse is attached to the negative consequence of broken relationship for awhile. You feel an extra need for reassurance after the abuse, some sign that their is still love in this relationship and instead you get the opposite. It makes you wonder if hearing an apology for the abuse is worth it. You start wondering how you can make things better between you and them.
  • The apology is full of sarcasm and accusation. But if you confront it, their face and tone instantly change. How could you think they were sarcastic? You have no idea how deeply sorrowful they are at the mere idea of hurting you. You wonder if you are going crazy.
  • The apology is full of victim-ease. He just couldn't help himself. He is so damaged he just can't stand it. He is broken, so broken. He needs more of your love and help. He wants to do better, he really does. With your help maybe he can be a better man.

Any healthy person may be guilty of doing some of these things some of the time. But I believe that abusers turn these escapes from taking responsibility for themselves into an art form. Learning to observe your own reactions to apologies may be the fastest way to detect when the other party is up to something. Something that is not for your benefit. Consider trusting your gut more and implementing boundaries (such as "Let me think about this. Let's talk about it again tomorrow").

Monday, April 13, 2009

Seeing Apologies Clearly

Apologies don't always mean what we think, especially if we've been in an abusive relationship for years. It is confusing. It seems like the meaning of an apology should be universal. But it isn't. We want every apology to mean exactly what we intend when we give a heartfelt apology: we regret what we've done and we are taking steps to not repeat the wrong behavior; we value the relationship and are willing to grow.

If we honestly examine our own behavior, however, there is a range of what we mean exactly. Sometimes when we apologize too quickly we're really saying: "Please don't be mad at me. I need you to calm down so I can calm down so I can figure out what I've done wrong."

When someone uses people and manipulates them to get what they want (a.k.a any abusive personality), apologies or lack of apologies is another tool at their disposal. Some abusive people rarely or never apologize. The lack of apology is another gesture that normalizes the abuse and teaches the victim that they aren't worth much. Other abusers use apologies frequently, promising they are sorry, so you should continue to trust them as a well-meaning person.

If you receive apologies from an abuser, he/she is not telling you that he/she is ready to change and grow. Instead, he/she is telling you that he/she wants the relationship to continue as is. The apology serves him/her and does not benefit you.

What is the payoff that such a person is looking for? He or she wants, and normally gets, you to:
--trust him or her again
--continue giving him or her access
--forget the negative parts of the relationship
--focus on the positive parts of the relationship
--get you to feel guilty for getting angry
--get you to perceive the abuse as normal
--get you to accept more abuse
--get you to lower your expectation bar
--get you to feel guilty about any thought of ending the relationship
--get you to commit yourself even more deeply to the relationship (sign that lease, enter a mortgage contract, go forth with wedding preparations, move across the country with him/her, start a family...)

Think about it. Journal. What has happened when you accepted his/her apology in the past? Did he or she change in any significant way? Be aware that some abusers change their m.o. (how they abuse), but they don't stop abusing.

In the next post, we'll explore how an abusive person successfully tricks people. We'll talk about the tricks that manipulate a normal IQ person, or even above normal intelligence person.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

With Us

Feeling down, tired, wounded, and/or angry? God understands. Jesus has been there.

Emotions can hit hard, making us feel alone in the onslaught. But, fortunately, feelings are merely reactions and signals. They give us information--but they are not stable, they are not a worthy foundation, and they are not signposts of truth.

Jesus lives and he promised to remain with us and in us forever, if we would only believe in Him. That is truth.

The recovery journey from the pain of abuse is different when we invite God into it. His knowledge of us helps us to see ourselves more clearly. His love for us gives us courage and strength. His peace surrounds our aching hearts and gives us a place to rest. His joy sustains us in even the darkest moments of remembering. His hope reminds us that we can press on in Him and expect good things. Do not grow weary, dear Readers.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I hate it when I get angry! I also hate it when anyone is angry with me. Anger is still an in-process thing.

I used to have trouble even recognizing my own anger. For over thirty years, I lived with people who discouraged any expression of emotion and I got used to playing by those rules. Then, I made changes, including deciding not to accept abuse any more. No longer living with an abuser, I swung to the other extreme and expressed practically every emotion the minute I had it. I didn't like that either. It didn't feel good for me and I suspect that it made my family uncomfortable too.

Now, I am trying to find the middle ground. I want to feel free to express myself and I want to be kind and intentional about what I share, and when I share it. Sounds lovely to me, but getting there is still awkward at this point.

I'm going to share what I still struggle with in the hopes that other readers can identify and will feel less alone:
--Sometimes, I don't recognize that I am angry until I hear the angry tone of my voice.
--Almost always my mouth goes dry in fear when I'm waiting for the other person's response.
--I always feel guilty right after the other moves on to other things, regardless of whether I handled myself well or not.
--I often try to make others apologize for hurting my feelings or breaking a promise or whatever. I do it by pointing out that they still have not apologized.

I hope someone out there in blog-land can identify!

The good news is that seeing where I still need to grow does not negate any of the healing that has already taken place. Long ago when I was mad, I called myself names and then numbed all feeling by staring hard at an inanimate object and shutting down (a disassociation technique). Later on, I was able to journal my feelings and tended to write a respectful letter to the other about what was upsetting me because I couldn't handle telling him or her verbally. When my parents or my spouse was mad at me, I did things like hide in a closet or under a bed or up in a tree. Later on, I stayed to face the person but I backed up whenever he/she expressed his/her anger and then I’d move forward when it was my turn to express anger. I no longer do any of those things. I feel much less fear than I used to. When I look back, it is obvious that I have come a long ways with God's help.

Each one of us who are recovering from abuse, need to accept that we are in process. Healing happens layer by layer and day by day. Each time, seeing a problem with clarity is the beginning of a new bit of growth and freedom. Whether or not anger is one of your damaged areas, I hope that you will be gentle with yourself as you go along.

I'm going to follow my own advice and work on being gentle with myself, too. I'm going to accept that the anger issue is going to take me awhile and be happy about the healing that has happened thus far.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


For years I was like an over wound spring. I was always taunt, believing that I must be on the alert 24/7 in order to protect myself from further harm. I slept lightly so I could be aware when my door was opened during the night. I tried to shower or bathe only when my dad was preoccupied or gone. I avoided my parents after their third glass of alcohol of the evening. I tried to never anger my parents. As a young adult, I tried to never leave our children alone with my husband. I tried to foresee what might anger my husband and then fix it. I tried to interfere when he was upset with one of the children. I tried, I tried, I tried.

I listened and watched for warning signs of trouble with everyone, not just my known abusers. I waited and watched for the worst to happen, hopeful that somehow, this time, I could avert abuse. Once in awhile, I did seem to rescue myself from a particular incident, but the overall pattern of abuse continued unchecked. I was alone in a never-ending traumatized state.

Looking back, my hyper-vigilance seems valiant and in vain. My self-protection efforts were just not very effective despite my conscientiousness. I feel compassion for my younger self who worked so hard for so little return.

One day I was simply too exhausted to continue. I gave up and cried out for God's help. he showed up and led me step by step out of abuse. I feel great relief that those days of continual vigilance are over. I feel grateful to God for rescuing me from such an impossible job.

Today, I no longer see myself as the prevent-er of pain, trauma, and abuse. With God's help, I've learned how to be more assertive and have stopped living with abuse. Even more importantly, I've learned that God is loving, good, and trustworthy. Now I keep my eyes on Him not on my fears. I watch with eager expectation now to see how God is going to help when life becomes challenging or painful. I'm not tightly wound up anymore, because I know God will help me in each situation. He can handle even the worst scenarios. he works all things for my good, helping me to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). I can rest now, because God is with me, behind me, before me, and in me. I no longer walk alone.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Generational Abuse♦

Both of my parents were involved with my abuse. Recently I reflected again, wondering why they are the way that they are. Compassion took me by surprise. Were they too abused? And if so, by whom? I will probably never know.

One of the horrors of abuse is the way it can travel down family trees. It seems so wrong and unfair. Why would one family be so heavily bombarded with abuse?

Most people do to others as has been done to them. It's a horrible breaking of the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you). It is also far away from the Christian teaching to "love your neighbor as yourself." Abused people don't know how to love themselves let alone others. Injured people, can wreck havoc and pain as they thrust their pain onto others. Not all injured people perpetuate the abuse, however. Some former victims try very hard not to perpetuate any abuse to the future generation.

But even when a former victim is hyper-vigilant, it does not mean that the next generation will not be affected. I liked it when others praised me for my journey of healing from abuse, often adding that I was ending the dysfunction right here--the family blight was stopping right now, right here. I assumed this meant that my children would not have to deal with any dysfunction or abuse. They would get to lead totally normal and healthy lives.

My assumptions were wrong.

Today, I believe that every generation of every family is plagued by sin. It is our human condition.

I also see now that a family's propensity toward particular sins cannot be changed by only one person's decision and effort to change. For one thing, a decision to change is a change of will and beliefs but that does not normally translate into instant and complete change in all related behaviors and feelings. For another thing, each child's full experience (including schoolmates, neighbors, sports team players, church family, etc) is unique and can include abuse outside of their home experience. Furthermore, each child is also their own unique combination of genetics and temperament, which influences how much they are impacted by any remaining unhealthiness their parents are expressing in the home.

The fact that I decided not to mistreat my children in any way, did not spare my children from all family dysfunction. I married an abuser and his abuse spread to the children after he became a parent. And despite my own sincere efforts to be a healthy parent, I still made mistakes. For instance, I said, "Shame on you" during my eldest daughter's first years. It was said to myself and I automatically said the same to my child as it had been said to me many times in my child--until the day when I had learned enough healthy attitudes to suddenly really hear my words. I knew I didn't mean it and I did not want to keep on doing it. I changed. But the change took a little while before I never said that phrase again. Just recently I apologized to her for that and told her that she had done nothing to deserve such condemning words. I asked her if she remembered those times. She said it sounded familiar; she knew it was true. She was impacted even though its been over 17 years since I last uttered the unhealthy phrase.

This in no way negates the significance of a family member making a decision to consciously change their own behavior and end a negative cycle. Such a decision makes a huge change in the quality of life for that individual and it can have a significant ripple effect that reaches children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

My children have been impacted in huge ways since I divorced my abusive husband. Their lives are now much less chaotic, stressful, scary, etc. They have bloomed in the years since. They are happier and healthier individuals than they ever could have been if I had kept us in a home where we couldn't escape daily abuse.

So, readers, whether you're a dad or a mom, married or a single parent--keep on making healthy changes. It is worth the pain and difficult challenges involved. It will have a positive impact on others around you. Just don't count on seeing complete eradication of unhealthiness from yourself or from your descendants. It is unrealistic expectation. Instead enjoy the blessings that you reap from the change process. Rejoice! Celebrate too whenever you see evidence that one of your hard-earned changes is blessing others in your family tree.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Upside Down Lessons

Dysfunctional homes teach upside down rules for living. Upon reaching adulthood, a child of such a home has learned beliefs about responsibility that seemed logical as a child but don't help them to lead healthy adult lives. Examples of such rules might be:

--I am responsible for others. It is my job to make them happy, not mad, not drunk, etc.
--I am at fault when another misbehaves.
--I am responsible for reading other people's minds.
--I need to be on the lookout for danger and prevent it.
--I am inadequate so, of course, I've earned any abuse directed at me.
--Hiding is my only responsibility to myself.
--My needs will be met by other people, if they so choose. If they don't meet my needs, then I am wrong about what I need.
--I am responsible for paying attention and agreeing when others tell me what I feel, think or need.
--I am responsible for other people's feelings.
--I must be perfect. Being perfect will prevent bad circumstances from happening.
--I must be in control. Being in control will protect me from harm.
--It is my job to fulfill another person's needs, both spoken and unspoken.

If you're like me, you spent great amounts of effort "being responsible" only to discover your ways weren't helpful. Rather they interfered with having close and meaningful relationships.

If we grew up learning upside down ways, what can we do? Ask God for help. Ask Him to show us how to see and change the beliefs that govern our actions. God can use our reading, observations, and participation in self-help groups and/or counseling to help us discover healthier rules to operate by. Such rules might look something like these:

--I am responsible for myself.
--It is my job to express my thoughts and feelings.
--It is my responsibility to choose how I behave, who I hang out with, what I do for entertainment, etc.
--When I blame others it does not negate my responsibility for my actions.
--I am responsible for managing my attitudes.
--I am responsible for meeting my own needs through communicating to others and/or my own actions on my behalf
--When I agree to do something for another I need to follow through.
--I am capable of meeting my responsibilities.
--I, like all human beings will fail sometimes. When I mess up I can apologize and do my best to make things right or better.
--No one can control all the circumstances in life. I have the tools I need to respond responsibly to both positive and negative circumstances.
--Others are responsible for meeting their own needs.
--Others are responsible for their own behavior, attitudes and thoughts.

Be patient with yourself as you learn new rules and put them into practice. Generally speaking, learning any new skill takes time and practice. Not perfect performance. Not flawless execution. Practice. Mistake-filled, repetitive, frustrating practice that eventually leads to acquired skill. Hang in there, the effort is more than worth the joy that will come with a life governed by healthy, right-side up perspectives.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How to Flourish

"The righteous will flourish like a palm tree...and bear fruit, even in old age."
--Psalms 92:12 & 14

God is invested in our growth. The Bible says the righteous will flourish. According to the Webster Student Dictionary to flourish means "to grow or fare well; thrive; to be at the peak of success or development." Flourishing sounds great, but how do we get there when we feel abandoned, oppressed, and small?

Notice that the verse does not say that we might flourish, only if we've never been subjected to abuse. It doesn't say that our odds of thriving are dismal if we've been abused. No. We are told that we will flourish, if we are among the righteous. And fortunately, being among the righteous isn't difficult. We don't need to earn righteousness through our good deeds and best behavior. Again, no.

Being righteous is a state that is bequeathed to us for free, if we accept Jesus Christ as our savior. If we are Christians; we are righteous and we will flourish. We can count on it.Our growth is in His hands. All we need do is agree to abide in Him. Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing...This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples" (John 15:5 & 8). It is God who keeps us on the path of righteousness and cultivates our fruit bearing.

If we are practicing abiding in/living in our Lord, we've got guaranteed "faring well" in our life story. Living in Christ means we daily invite Him to be our Lord, trusting in Him despite the bad things we have experienced. Because we trust in Him, we fall more in love with Him as time goes by, and we become more and more desirous of obeying Him and choosing His ways as best. We allow God to do His work in us and through us. The changes for the better in our character are fruits and our actions that are based on trusting Him are fruits.

If we are currently being abused, we are living in our Savior when we turn to God with our tragedy. When we ask God for His protection, rescue, and aid we are abiding. When we trust Him to show us the best way to deal with the abuse, we are bearing good fruit indeed.

If we are in recovery from past abuse, abiding in God includes trusting Him with our healing, inviting Him into our dark places and following His lead. Following an invisible God is sometimes a challenge for us, but God helps us out with guidance from the Holy Spirit, with His Word (the Bible), church sermons, words from trusted people, songs on the radio and other creative ways of getting our attention. He is a gentle, good and patient shepherd, who willingly and joyfully leads us when we invite Him to guide our way.

Hold onto the hope of flourishing, even when you don't feel righteous, even when you feel frightened, or stuck in old patterns or too scarred to produce any positive fruit. Even then, keep your eyes and your hope focused on Jesus Christ. Our hope is secure because it is rooted in who God is fully righteous and totally faithful, not upon our fallible nature, our strength of will or our transient feelings. No. Rather, producing fruit relies on our powerful Lord and on His eternal truth. So go forth, dear ones, depend on your Lord and be on the watch for some fruit bearing and flourishing!

Recommended Books

  • 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages by Karla Downing
  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
  • Angry Men and the Women Who Love Them by Paul Hegstrom
  • Battered But Not Broken by Patricia Riddle Gaddis
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Bradshaw on the Family by John Bradshaw
  • Caring Enough to Forgive/Not Forgive by David Augsburger
  • Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
  • Healing the Wounded Heart by Dr. Dan B. Allendar
  • Keeping the Faith: Questions and Answers for the Abused Woman by Marie M. Fortune
  • Perfect Daughters by Robert J. Ackerman, Ph.D.
  • Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics by Herbert L. Gravitz and Julie D. Bowden
  • Safe People by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
  • Slay Your Own Dragons by Nancy Good
  • The Cinderella Syndrome by Lee Ezell
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D.
  • The Search for Significance by Robert S. McGee
  • Turning Fear to Hope by Holly Wagner Green
  • When Violence Comes Home: Help for Victims of Spouse Abuse by Tim Jackson and Jeff Olson
  • Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft