Thursday, October 31, 2013

Liies I Told Myself (Part 3)_My Job to Heal and Fix Broken People

Why trying to repair abusers didn't work

I was a sensitive child who felt other people’s pain easily. Even at four years of age, I felt sorry for my parents when they seemed emotionally out-of-control. Early in life, I accepted the assignment of trying to love my parents out of their pain which they expressed with alcoholism, sexual abuse, controlling behavior, yelling, emotional abuse, etc. Looking back it is so clear that I felt it was my job to heal and fix them. At seven years of age, I realized that God was the one who would be able to heal my parents, not me. But I still believed that if I was loved my parents enough (through my words and deeds) that I could be the important catalyst that would lead them to radically change their lives in healthy ways.
Photo by Michael Conners

I took these same attitudes into my marriage as a teen/young adult. My spouse was someone else who had lots of pain inside and a brokenness that kept him from healthy decisions and behavior. His expressions of pain included addictive tendencies, paranoia, compulsivity, suicide threats,  difficulty keeping a job and abuse. The expressions of pain had different labels but the only difference for me was that as a spouse I heard a lot more stories and details about why my spouse was broken and hurting.

In the name of love (and being an un-invited therapist), I tried to carry the burdens that seemed too heavy for my loved ones to carry. I felt their pain as if it was my own. I listened to rage, to bitterness, to resentment, to anger, to depressed feelings, and to drunken perceptions with my whole heart. I committed myself to helping them to feel better and to carrying away as much of their pain as I could manage. I’d carry the pain hidden inside of me. I didn’t talk to anyone about it, not even God.  I also bore other people’s secrets they hadn’t ever told anyone else. I couldn’t take direct action on any of the secrets (because they weren’t my issues to solve), but I carried them locked away inside of me.

By ninth grade, I knew that I had natural counseling and teaching skills that are a part of my personality type. At the time, this knowledge merely strengthened my conviction that I must spend a life time carrying other people’s pain for them--so they’d have a fighting chance to decide to engage in the work and pain of radical change.

My self-assigned job of fixing broken people, came about because there was an obvious need and there wasn’t anyone else available to do the job. The job wasn't very rewarding. I was known as a nice person, but the broken people in my life remained broken. I learned the hard way that when someone isn’t looking for any help, when they are not dissatisfied with the way they are living, when they deny they have any issues hindering their happiness and health--they remain dysfunctional. As an adult, I finally know (intellectually, emotionally and spiritually) that no one makes radical healthy changes in their life when they aren’t the ones seeking a healthier life. It doesn’t matter how much anyone else is eager to help them.

Photo by LadyHeart
Now that I am middle-aged, I can see clearly that the result of my faulty belief (of being a fixer of in-pain-broken people) was that I became a nice companion and handy trash can for more than a few abusive and psychologically unhealthy people. When they behaved inappropriately they received empathy and gentleness from me. When they behaved insanely I tried to comfort them. When they raged I apologized a lot and tried harder to make their lives less stressful. When others told me vivid details about crimes they’d committed, how much they hated another, or how resentful and suspicious they were, I tried to calm them and show that I accepted them 100% no matter what they did. I forgave by excusing. I listened by storing what wasn’t mine. I received other’s anger in quantities that stole my own energy and peace. I identified to others to the extreme point of losing track of my own emotions. I felt sorry for the other’s pain and completely ignored how I felt after spending time with them.

Today, I do things differently. I now avoid close relationship with anyone who demonstrates regularly through their actions that they are satisfied with their dysfunctional lifestyle. If I realize I am trying to fix or heal another, I detach (by remembering I can only change myself) and I turn them and their feelings into God’s loving and capable hands.  I now focus on doing my own emotional processing to keep myself healthy and realize that other people have the choice to do their own emotional processing.

All these changes in my own choices have come out of letting go of my own warped perceptions and embracing reliable truths. I still think abuse is tragic and the roots of what leads someone into being abusive are also sad. But I realize now that a sad or tragic or frightening past doesn’t make acting out to harm others right. In addition, I’ve proved to myself that no one else can fix a person who engages in self-abuse and/or other-abuse. Counselors can offer help to those who truly seek help, but all the power for change comes from within the broken person. No one else can create any lasting change inside of someone else.

Have you tried to fix or heal broken and/or abusive people? How did it work out?

Related Articles:
Healthy or Abusive?

Is This Good for You?

Generational Abuse


I Thought I Could Help Fix Broken People Click to Tweet

Another Doormat Idea Click to Tweet

Don't be a Trash Can for Abusers Click to Tweet

No comments:

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