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.


Hannah said...

I have to say that when my own father apologized before he passed away it lifted a huge weight off me. He gave it to me in a letter, and I will always cherish his humbleness. You could tell just by the way he worded it, etc it came from his heart.

Don't downplay that apology to your daugther. It meant more to her than you know. lol and remember even the BEST of parents...make mistakes! It shows character and integity to admit them! Those qualities are a sign of a good parent!

Anonymous said...

Tanya, Thank you for your thoughtful comment on my blog, because you gave me the gift of finding yours.

I am so pleased to see that you too are healing and sharing your journey of healing with others. I know that countless hearts are touched by you and your openness.

May Love grow daily in your heart and life.

Tanya T. Warrington said...

Thank you Hannah and Jacqueline for your encouraging comments. You've brightened up my day.

Hannah, I really like your reminder that all parents make mistakes. It is so true. No matter how hard we try we are still fallible human beings. Isn't it wonderful that we can apologize when we realize we've messed up? We can't undo things, but we can grow close with honest sharing and caring.

Recommended Books

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  • A Way of Hope by Leslie J. Barner
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  • 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