Monday, May 20, 2013

Love Wasn't Enough

We loved each other
I loved who he seemed to be
Thinking he just needed my help
to heal his old hurts

I saw love as a cocoon
He was a prince who lacked confidence
A young man who'd had bad luck
A person with lots of potential

I saw myself as a gentle love
Whose acceptance would unlock treasures
I caught glimpses of buried under layers
of what he did--but he surely didn't intend

I believed our love would be enough
to carry us through any marital difficulties
raising him above self-destructiveness
and strengthening me to carry us both

I married without understanding
who he really was
I didn't see his attitudes
Yes, he wanted me--to own and control

I wanted to help him--
He wanted me to fear him;
I couldn't help him become the prince
Whom I thought was hidden in the beast

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Overcome Evil with Good

Looking at the evil things in this life can become overwhelming if we let it. Addressing memories of abuse is important for good mental and physical health, but it does not need to be a twenty-four hours a day preoccupation. One good way to maintain balance while working through bad memories and difficult counseling sessions is to make an extra effort to pratice gratitude. This isn't about pretending that bad things aren't so bad (minimization). This is about seeing the bad things that have happened and  also seeing that there are good things in life that we can rejoice in (realistic balance). We can save ourselves from becoming caught up in a non-ending self-pity loop or a fatalistic belief that there will never be any good things in life for us.

Look for positive moments in your day. Take the time to notice how God is blessing you and tell him thanks. Simple things like sparkling snow covered bushes, an encouraging phone call, or laughter with one of your children counts. Be on the look out, I know you'll find things.

Create positive moments. Intentionally give a smile, a friendly wave or a hug as a way to express gratitude to the people in your life. Watch a comedy. Say thank you to anyone who serves you in any way today.

As you attend to your emotional and physical needs, thank your Creator for your emotions and your body. As you eat, say thank you for the provision of food. As you drive, thank God for your vehicle or as you ride the bus thank Him for public transportation.

If you're blue about your past, try grounding yourself in the present--be grateful for something or someone in this day. You're on a marathon of healing, not a sprint. Taking time for gratitude will make it a more enjoyable journey. Gratitude for the good in your life increases hope, decreases stress hormones and raises our courage--its a behavior that will bless you and others as you walk toward wholeness.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Changed Perspective on Forgiveness

Giving and receiving true forgiveness is essential if you want to find positive relationships and stay away from harmful relationships. Abuse by its very nature, doesn't include a life-giving version of forgiveness. It is either missing entirely or is warped.

In the years of living in abusive situations, I knew forgiveness was important but I didn’t know what it looked like. I watched one parent hold onto bitterness and hatred. A person became bad in her eyes forever.  And the worst offense another could commit was to set a boundary or to be critical of the abuser that she had married. The abuser was “good” and everyone else, including herself, could easily be thrown into the “bad” column of her mind. “Bad” people deserved punishment and withdrawal of support and love.

I watched my other parent, the one who often became emotionally or sexually abusive, never apologize for anything—no matter how violating or outrageous his behavior had been. He came across as believing that he was always right and that everyone else had problems that he alone knew how to correct. He was the king who put up with all the little people who were weak, being less good, less knowledgeable, and less smart than himself. No one was excluded, everyone, except himself, qualified for being one of the lesser people.

In my first marriage, I lived with an abuser who rarely apologized and when he did it was convoluted. His apologies always turned out to be an apology that I misread his actions or words. He never admitted or apologized for his words and actions. When he "forgave" me, he put me in my place and controlled me. When I tried to extend forgiveness to him for the abuse, he interpretated as a green light to continue abusing in the future.

With each of these people, I believed that they expected more of me than I could ever deliver. I didn't feel understood or cherished. I didn't feel safe. I responded to my environment by trying harder and harder to be perfect. I desperately wanted to be good enough, but could never get there. An impossible goal, that ate away at any sense that I was worth being valued or respected or forgiven. When these people "forgave" me, I felt inferior, shamed, and alone. 

After, I left my abuser my understanding of forgiveness changed. I learned from the Bible that God forgave all my wrongs out of his love for me. He forgives and embraces us with his love and care. I learned that God wants me to forgive others when they harm me. I’m urged not to reserve forgiveness for only those whom I like, but to forgive my enemies as well. This forgiveness doesn’t come out of being a great person of superior character, it is a loving act that my God has modeled for me--and that He gives me the love and power to pass on to others. 

I have learned through experience that true forgiveness isn't about pretending that no harm was done. When I fully forgive, I have fully acknowledged and felt all the pain the other initiated with his/her harmful behavior. True forgiveness acknowledges the emotional pain, and yet chooses to let go of seeking any revenge or payback. When I am forgiving abuse, I also need to let go of my perceived right to resent the other person or to hold myself hostage to any self-abusive reasoning that tries to excuse or deny or take the blame for the other's behavior.

And, the best and hardest thing for an abused person to believe, true forgiveness doesn't require that we re-submit to more abuse. It doesn't embrace a victim mentality. We can forgive past abuse and keep ourselves safe from future abuse. If the abuser never shows that he/she has changed, we don't need to give him/her more opportunities to abuse us. It takes time and effort to believe that we really can say no to abuse because it is the opposite of the victim ideas that we adopt to survive under abuse. Our highly developed sense of guilt and shame work against us in our early attempts to forgive and to set healthy boundaries to step out of the abuser's reach.

I now give forgiveness in healthy relationships with people. When I  consciously forgiven others for hurting me, I experience humble awareness of my own lack of perfection and gratefulness for God’s love. The giving of forgiveness lifts away my judgemental attitude. I find myself loving the other more than I did before.

When I feel I have done wrong, I feel free to apologize to the other and to forgive myself. I receive God’s forgiveness every time. When the person I’ve hurt also extends grace-filled forgiveness, I feel humility and joy, empowering me to make any adjustments to my thoughts and behavior. I feel accepted and loved. I am grateful. I am inspired to keep forgiving others and inspired to understand myself and others better. I am inspired to freely give grace. I feel more connected to God and to the rest of the human race. It's radically different than how I was trained as a child--it's much more fruitful and life-giving.

How is your journey of learning about forgiveness coming along?

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