Surviving Domestic Violence
Domestic Violence can be anything from a look to a gunshot. Emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical injury. Ask anyone who lives with the debilitating effects of manipulation and control. Emotional abuse has been described as the slow and silent hemorrhaging of the soul.
Take a look at the power and control wheel in the link below. You will see that the center is the motivation which is power and control over another person. The spokes of the wheel are all the ways an abuser controls the other person in emotional and practical ways. As long as those methods of emotional abuse work there is no need to advance to the outer realm of physical abuse. When abusers can no longer control their victim through their tried and true methods, they panic and escalate to physical harm. That is why the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when you try to leave it.
How does one escape a toxic relationship when they have been isolated from family and friends and any other avenues of support?
I’m not going to tell you 10 ways to leave an abusive relationship. That’s been done and you can find multiple websites with that information. I’ve listed a few at the end of this blog.
What I am going to tell you is that the battle of ending domestic violence begins and ends in your mind. Your future and that of your children is determined by your answer to this one questions: Do you love yourself? Emotionally healthy people would never let someone they love endure harsh treatment, including themselves.
At our retreats, we have a saying that we create the reality we THINK we deserve. If the loudest voice in your ear is telling you that you don’t matter, then it’s easier to believe that and stay where you are in life. At least you are getting attention even if it is negative and abusive. If you believe you are valuable and deserve better treatment you will develop a plan of healthier living.
We also believe when the pain of where you are becomes greater than the fear of where you are going, you will be ready to make a change. Only you can leave an abuser, but you can’t do it alone.
There are people who don’t even know you who care about you, who believe in you, and are ready to help you. There are hotlines, shelters, long-term residential facilities and caring people who will walk with you on your journey. Your journey out begins a long time before you walk out the door.
Your game plan begins with self-analysis. What has led you to this point of devaluation of self? If your friends and family wouldn’t be horrified to know what you live with, you need to find people who would. That may be total strangers who have walked in your shoes. Sadly, many victims of abuse have never known anything different. From childhood, they were given the message by their own parents that they don’t matter and they deserve whatever bad comes their way.
You can choose to not believe those lies anymore, but you may need a lot of re-enforcement to change your internal dialogue. Does your conversation in your head sound like this?
And my absolute worst favorite excuse:
There is a reason people stay with abusive people, especially if you grew up with violence. They are usually charming, manipulative con artists. They convince you they are right and you are wrong. But the greatest draw is the cycle of abuse. It goes like this:
Your brain has become addicted to chaos and if someone else isn’t creating it, you will feel the need to stir something up. In intimate relationships, you find stable, reliable people boring.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
"I didn’t think you were close to your mom."
"From what you‘ve told me about your dad, I would think you would be glad he’s dead."
Have you ever heard those words spoken to someone whose abusive parent died? Have you used them yourself?
It’s natural for an outsider to think those thoughts when they hear an abusive parent died. Yet for the child of an abuser, regardless of their age, there is still grief. Albeit, a different kind of grief. For the average person, the loss of a parent is a loss of memories. For the victim of abuse, it is the loss of hope. For the loving family, there is a desire and expectation of making even more happy memories in the future with that loved one who is now gone. For the survivor, the death of their abuser is a final loss of hope that there will ever be the creation of happy memories. Simply stated, normal families miss what they had with the deceased. Abusive families miss what they never had.
For many people, the death of their abusive parent creates an external dilemma. Should I go to the funeral? What will people think of me if I don’t? If I do go, I’ll be forced to be phony, to pretend they were a good person when I know they weren’t. Attending their funeral is just another way they have of controlling me. All these thoughts may run through your mind when your parent dies. It’s a private decision only you can make.
Remember that funerals are for the living, not for the dead. You have to find your own personal closure but that does not necessarily mean you have to attend the funeral. Yes, some will think you are the bad guy; that you dishonored your parent by not even attending their funeral. But there may be others who understand and support your decision. Regardless, this is an opportunity for you to protect yourself emotionally and continue recovery.
Abusive families, by their very nature, do not acknowledge the feelings of its victims. Don’t expect the narcissistic, gossiping members of a family to care what the mistreated members feel or think.
You need closure? Make arrangements with the funeral home to view the body before or after regular visiting hours so you avoid family and have a few private moments to speak your mind to the deceased. Or visit the grave a few days later.
Are you wondering what God expects from you? There is no record of Jesus ever attending a funeral. He attended weddings and feasts and he raised people from the dead but he did not attend a funeral.
We are told to honor our fathers and mothers but that simply means to live your life in such a way that it would bring honor to them if they were deserving of honor. It does not mean to obey them or to allow them to control you even after they are dead and gone.
Proverbs 11:10 NIV says, When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy… If you are feeling relief at your parent’s passing, God gets that!
The greater dilemma is the internal one. The one no one sees; the one that isn’t open to scrutiny; the one where you struggle to let go of the pain of longing for your mother’s or father’s love. The inherent birthright of every child is to have parents who love and value them, who support and encourage them. To not have that is a bitter loss that cannot be replaced by anyone else. There is an invisible umbilical cord that connects us to the ones who gave us life that is never completely severed.
You may have gut-wrenching sobs over your parent dying and still be glad they are gone. You aren’t crying for them or their return. You grieve for the loss of never having what you should have had in that relationship.
You are left unable to mourn properly. Gone forever is the chance to confront, to resolve arguments, to declare your love to them. There is unfinished business, questions unanswered, words unspoken or words that can’t be taken back. How would you want it finished? You get to create, if only in your mind, a beautiful ending. Write it down and write your own ending. Write a poem or find a song that expresses your thoughts. Paint a picture or design a scrapbook. Create a collage or a small memorial space in your home or yard. You know the reality all too well, but you can dream of how it could or should have been without being delusional!
There are three basic feelings toward an abuser who has passed: Love, hate, or conflicted feelings. I suggest you think over your history with this parent who is gone and think of it as panning for gold. You dig up all the past memories and sift through them. As in searching for gold nuggets, you pick out what bits are worth keeping and let the filth and soot of your life with them be released back into the creek bed and flow away from you. It is okay to hang onto good memories or lessons learned from them and still hate the injustice done to you or others by that person.
My father was an alcoholic, very physically abusive to my brothers and mother and sexually abusive to all his children. Below is an excerpt from my book Blind Trust: A Child’s Legacy, written under the pen name of Karen Austin. It reflects my reaction to my own father’s death.
… I stepped into the branch manager’s office. She looked me in the face and said, I’m sorry to tell you this, Karen, but I received a phone call just a few minutes ago. Your father died this morning.” She added kindly, “You can use my office if you would like to be alone for a few minutes.”
No! No, I… I… just thought you were going to say something else, I answered. I was breathing heavily, not quite knowing how to adjust to this absolutely wonderful news. I knew she took my reaction as grief, and I knew to keep pretending. It was hard to do since I wanted to dance around the room.
I had not told anyone Daddy had been in a coma now for nine days, and that he was only forty-nine years old. I had not told anyone he was sick, for that matter. I had been expecting him to die, but nothing prepared me for the exultation I felt. He would never be a threat to my little daughter! I felt as though I had been given a new lease on life. I went to his funeral, out of respect for my mother. Personally, I considered it an interruption to my life, and I rejoiced that it would be the last time he could summon me to his side.
Regardless of your reaction, know that there is no wrong way to respond. You may want to seek out a grief counselor to help you through this time. Don’t depend on friends or family members to understand or have the knowledge to help.
There is a book you may find helpful called Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief by Jennifer Elison and Chris McGonigle.
The Process of Forgiveness
Let’s talk about the “F” word for survivors. “FORGIVENESS” is just as offensive a word to most survivors as the real “F” word is to some people because it implies so many erroneous ideas. Once again it puts the responsibility on the victim and seemingly holds no benefit for her or him. Recently a client told me she was struggling with anger and bitterness toward her abuser. She lamented that she wants to get to the forgiveness stage but can’t imagine doing that. I said, “You don’t realize it, but you are actually in the beginning stages of forgiveness.”
Until you feel the full impact of what has been done to you and take an inventory of all the things that were taken from you as a result, you never get to the forgiveness stage. Instead you are minimizing, justifying or excusing the behavior and the offender. Anger is a scary emotion to most people. It seems to contradict who they really are. My little anger speech is another blog for another day, but it is a necessary emotion to identify and confront injustice. We should always get angry whenever someone takes advantage of another even if that other person is ourselves.
What forgiveness is… and isn’t.Forgiveness is:
VERTICAL FORGIVENESS (GOD TO MAN)
Forgiveness is not:
HORIZONTAL FORGIVENESS (MAN TO MAN)
The one thing vertical and horizontal forgiveness has in common is: They both benefit us.
The Parts of Forgiveness
The Paradox of Forgiveness
The following letter was written by a 27 year old man to his father who walked out of his life when he was just 8 years old. I will not identify the author of the letter, but it is shared with his permission:
Things may never be the way I want them to be. I’m grown enough to see that. However, I can’t carry the weight of this all my life. I forgive you for not being there as I grew up. I forgive you for not teaching me the basics of being a man. I forgive you for not being involved. I forgive you for not teaching me how to drive a stick. I forgive you for placing the blame on mom and pretending like she was the only reason you weren’t there. I forgive you for stealing my Gameboy from the hotel that day. I forgive you for the pain I’ve carried all these years. I forgive you for leaving me behind. I forgive you for showing someone else’s kids the love I felt I deserved. I forgive you for everything. I forgive you. This is purely a selfish forgiveness. By that I mean I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing this for me.
I’ve carried around this weight for so long because I repressed all this and pretended like it didn’t matter. I was wrong. It does matter. If it doesn’t matter to anyone else, it matter to me. I needed this. I need something to look back on and be able to tell myself to man up because I’ve already forgiven you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean to forget. It means I’ve made peace with the demons holding me back. From this day forward I can look back and feel better knowing that I let myself forgive you.
I can let go of the anger, the hurt, the resentment, the lack of understanding and everything else I’ve been clinging to because that’s all I had. I can let go of this weight. I can actually feel it coming off my shoulders as I type this. I didn’t do it alone either. Eric Thomas inspired me to do it. It took over a year of listening to him for me to finally wake up this morning and say today is the day I free myself from all this and hold my head a little higher as I walk into the next stage of my life.
I’m not looking to start anything. I’m not looking for a radical change in our relationship. I’m honestly not expecting anything to physically change. Just what’s in me; what’s in my head can finally change and I can be free of who I used to be. I forgive you and I forgive me for putting myself through this for longer than I can remember.
The deeper the hurt, the longer it takes to forgive. I personally don’t like the term “recovery” although in my line of work, I use it repeatedly. Recovery indicates you can get back what was taken from you. You may recover a stolen purse but in the case of a lost childhood, that can never happen. Fortunately there are other “R” words that raise us to a higher level of function and happiness.
Restoration: God can restore us to wholeness and bring beauty from ashes.
Resurrection: Bring to life that part of us which died, such as feelings.
Redemption: We can be rescued from the consequences of someone else’s sins.
Final words on this subject: Forgiveness is near the final stage of recovery , not the beginning. I have heard some say you must forgive before you can begin to heal. I disagree. I draw my conclusion from my own experience and that of countless other victims over the course of my professional life.
Feel the hurt, get the professional help you need, replace the hurt with love and the negative experiences with successful ones. Then you will understand the need to forgive for your own sake.
Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
It has been said that when the co-dependent person dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes. That pretty well describes it! A co-dependent has trouble recognizing where another person ends and they begin. In order for someone to be co-dependent, there must be a dependent person who allows you to take care of them. This is the set-up for a dysfunctional relationship. Originally, the word co-dependent came on the scene from a medical model. Melanie Beatty’s book, Co Dependent No More first introduced us to the concept of codependency. Now we realize it is present in relationships with personality disordered individuals as well as addictive personalities. Codependents NEED to be NEEDED. When they aren’t, they feel incomplete and disconnected.
You are codependent if you exhibit these traits:
The Compliance Patterns as well as the information under Codependency and Christian living and Enabling are not my original thoughts. I obtained them many years ago from Celebrate Recovery handouts. I am not sure of the original source, but they are excellent checklists.
Codependency and Christian Living
On the surface, codependency messages sound like Christian teaching.
“Codependents always put others first before taking care of themselves.” (Aren’t Christians to put others first?)
“Codependents give themselves away.” (Shouldn’t Christians do the same?)
“Codependents martyr themselves.” (Christianity honors its martyrs.)
Those statements have a familiar ring, don’t they? Then how can we distinguish between codependency, which is unhealthy to codependents and their dependents, and mature faith, which is healthy?
Jesus taught the value of the individual. He said we are to love others equal to ourselves, not more than. A love of self forms the basis for loving others. The difference between a life of service and codependency take several forms.
Motivation differs. Does the individual give his service and himself out of free choice or because he considers himself of no value? Does he seek to “please people”? Does he act out of guilt and fear? Does he act out of a need to be needed (which means he actually uses the other person to meet his own needs; the helpee becomes an object to help the helper achieve his own goals.)
Service is to be an active choice. The person acts; codependents react. Codependents’ behavior is addictive rather than balanced. Addictions control the person instead of the person being in charge of their own life.
Codependents have difficulty living balanced lives; they do for others at the neglect of their own well-being and health; Christian faith calls for balanced living and taking care of oneself.
Codependent helping is joyless; Christian service brings joy.
Codependents are driven by their inner compulsions; Christians are God-directed and can be free from compulsiveness, knowing that God brings the ultimate results.
I want to expound on codependency in the Christian community. I have many pet peeves, but this is one of the big ones. Working with survivors of trauma is my life. I’ve never known anything different. From surviving extreme abuse myself as a small child to protecting little brothers during domestic violence episodes to professional training and providing counseling as an adult. I know and understand that it may take years of conscientious WORK to overcome a childhood of abuse or dysfunctional thinking patterns.
Let me first make it clear that I have been a born-again Christian since the age of 9 and in no way am I discrediting Biblical mandates. On the contrary, I want to clarify the teachings of Jesus. Occasionally, I hear a survivor of abuse say that Jesus has healed them of all their pain and they don’t need counseling. Yet they are the most judgmental and controlling … and codependent… people you will ever meet. They simply don’t see their own flaws and dysfunctional thinking patterns.
Sometimes people use God as an excuse to continue in their old pattern of behaviors because they lack the courage to change. I say it again; recovery is a lot of work. It requires emotional energy which drains your physical energy. God always provides a way through people, opportunities, his own Spirit guiding us and other means but psychological healing doesn’t happen in an instant.
Dr. David Seamands says in his book, Healing For Damaged Emotions:
“The great crisis experience of Jesus Christ, as important and eternally valuable as this is, is not a shortcut to emotional health. It is not a quickie cure for personality problems.”
He also writes in the preface of the same book, “Early in my pastoral experience, I discovered that I was failing to help two groups of people through the regular ministries of the church. Their problems were not being solved by the preaching of the Word, commitment to Christ, the filling of the Spirit, prayer, or the Sacraments.
I saw one group being driven into futility and loss of confidence in God’s power. While they desperately prayed, their prayers about personal problems didn’t seem to be answered. They tried every Christian discipline, but with no result. As they played the same old cracked record of their defeats, the needle would get stuck in repetitive emotional patterns. While they kept up the outward observance of praying professing, they were going deeper and deeper into disillusionment and despair.
I saw the other group moving toward phoniness. These people were repressing their inner feelings and denying to themselves that anything was seriously wrong, because “Christians can’t have such problems. “Instead of facing their problems, they covered them with a veneer of Scripture verses, theological terms, and unrealistic platitudes.
The denied problems went underground, only to later reappear in all manner of illnesses, eccentricities, terribly unhappy marriages, and sometimes even in the emotional destruction of their children.”
Enabling is defined as reacting to a person in such a way to shield him or her from experiencing the full impact of the harmful consequences of behavior. Enabling behavior differs from helping in that it permits or allows the person to be irresponsible.
Another way to determine whether you are codependent is to give yourself the FOG test. If you are acting out of Fear, Obligation or Guilt, then your motivation is not love. Anything other than love is the wrong motive.
Whether the dependent person is chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol or other addictive behaviors such as shoplifting, gambling, sexual behaviors, rage or domestic violence, you must remove yourself from the role of enabler. VERY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: You cannot stop their behavior but you can and must protect yourself from it.
Next month my blog will be a continuation of discussion on codependency and will focus on Adult Children of Alcoholics. The alcohol or drug addicted home is the perfect set-up for codependent living. I hope the new year will bring a determination in each of you to live emotionally healthy lives. Find a qualified counselor near you who can help you revise your thinking so you can create the reality you deserve.
Until then I wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS !
The addict is:
Addicted: You cannot reason with an alcoholic while under the influence or when he or she is craving it. The addiction overrides everything else in life.
Assuming: The addict expects others to read their mind and know what they want, so the family members begin to predict the alcoholic’s behavior.
Arrogant: Thinks the family revolves around the alcoholic and they do!
Apologetic: Keeps spouse attached because they do promise to do better.
Blurred Boundaries: The rules change often in the alcoholic home. Boundaries vacillate from rigid to non-existent.
Broken Promises: Children learn not to expect anything good because the parent doesn’t remember it later, causing great disappointment to the child. The child learns not to believe people or hope a promise will be fulfilled.
Blame: Does not accept responsibility for their drinking, so they accuse others of being the cause.
Critical: Finds fault with others because they aren’t happy with themselves.
Callous: Alcohol numbs their sensitivity.
Cruel: Drinking often leads to abuse. At the very least, the family suffers emotional abuse because of all these other categories.
Our childhood experiences explain our current behavior but they don’t excuse it. Our challenge is to understand it and learn from it. Adult children of alcoholic parents are “para-alcoholics”. They grew up catering to the wishes of the alcoholic and other dysfunctional family members. They learned how to interact with the world according to how they functioned within their family of origin. Needy family members receive an inappropriate proportion of the family’s time, attention and energy, leaving little time for the children who should be the recipient of these things.
It is said that the only thing predictable about an alcoholic home is that it is unpredictable. A dysfunctional family does not teach effective living skills to children such as appropriate touch, problem solving, communication, social interaction, reasonable expectations, time and money management and the list goes on and on.
In the chemically dependent home, children adopt specific roles in order to cope. The addict is, of course, the dependent one. All the other family members are co-dependent, but the spouse is the primary enabler or co-dependent. (See last month’s blog for more on co-dependency.) The children fall into categories known as:
Characteristics of the Hero Child: The Hero is usually the oldest but not always. If there is only one girl in the family she may grow into that role, depending on societal and family expectations. The Hero is the responsible one, usually making straight A’s in school, taking care of other siblings, the peacemaker and the surrogate parent who feels responsible for making decisions when the parents don’t. Children in this role try to make the family look good by being perfect. After all, if the family has such a good child, it can’t be all that bad!
Characteristics of the Scapegoat: The scapegoat is the “troublemaker” of the family. He or she is the one who tries drugs or alcohol, gets pregnant, gets in trouble with the law, drives recklessly, bullies others or engages in other high-risk behaviors. Despite the trouble they cause, many experts believe the Scapegoat is actually the least selfish of all because they are willing to bring trouble upon themselves in order to take the attention off the main issues in the family.
Characteristics of the Lost Child: The Lost Child, on the other hand, makes himself scarce and stays out of sight. He is a loner who prefers to stay in his room reading or doing solitary activities. If possible, he stays away from the house and family. He doesn’t express opinions or engage in arguments. He (or she) doesn’t want to be seen or heard. Most likely, this role is taken on by a middle child.
Characteristics of the Mascot: Usually the Mascot is the youngest child. He’s the funny, cute one who makes the family laugh. He can detract attention away from the primary issue in the family by using humor or “performing”. He avoids the pain by being the center of attention.
These roles are coping mechanisms that allow us to function in a dysfunctional environment. They give us purpose and a way of making the family operate, although not in a healthy way. For example, each child has a distinctive way of problem solving. The Hero tries to “fix” a problem. The Scapegoat “creates” them. The Lost Child “avoids” problems and the Mascot “minimizes” them.
Whether you evaluate, obliterate, mediate, escalate, or create problems depends upon your adopted role within the dysfunctional home. While these roles help us survive childhood, more often than not these roles follow us into adulthood where it is no longer needed and serves only to cripple our ability to function normally.
Many adult children of alcoholics decide not to drink since they don’t want to be like that parent they grew up with but they unknowingly exhibit many of the same behaviors their alcoholic parent did. Children learn what they live and then they live out what they have learned. Thus, they never learn to problem solve or have clear communication, keep promises they make, have clear boundaries with their own children or other adults, etc. The adult who quits drinking is referred to as a “dry drunk” because they may have given up their addiction to alcohol but they retained all the other behaviors.
Physiologically, the brain of a child who grows up in a chaotic environment becomes addicted to chaos. When they are removed from the chaos they will invent their own. The child’s brain has been overly stimulated and finds it difficult to function in normalcy. Just because that person is removed from the environment either as a child or as an adult, doesn’t mean it automatically responds differently to the world around them. If abuse is added to the unpredictability of an alcoholic home, trauma occurs and the brain may not be able to reset itself without professional help.
The amygdala is the part of the brain whose job is to sound the alarm and let us know when there is danger. The hippocampus assists the transfer of initial information that danger is over. With repeated trauma the hippocampus shrinks, leaving the amygdala in a constant state of hyper-arousal and expectation that something bad is going to happen. In a future blog, we will further explore the effects of trauma.
Until then, we at The Rest of The Journey wish you all a very Happy New Year.
Understanding the Value of Anger
Anger is a valuable emotion but many people feel it is a negative that must be purged from their lives. Anger is intended to be a signal that an injustice has taken place either to yourself or to others. The Bible actually commands us to “Be angry, but don’t sin in your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) Anger is not the same as revenge or bitterness. We are instructed to be careful that our anger does not turn into bitterness. How do we do that? By identifying the source of the anger and then expressing it appropriately.
There are only 3 ways to express anger:
Unexpressed anger reveals itself in psychosomatic ailments, depression and relentless shame and guilt. Anger is like fire. When fire is used to warm our homes or cook our food, it is useful and makes our existence better. When fire is out of control, it destroys forests and homes and claims lives. When anger is contained and used appropriately, it motivates us to right wrongs.
Anger is the first natural response to being hurt, but in abusive homes it is not safe for the victim to express anger. Consequently it is usually suppressed, especially with female victims, until it is not longer felt. This does not mean it goes away. Unresolved anger inevitably causes us inner turmoil.
Because we have been trained to no longer feel our emotions, we can more easily identify with someone else’s pain and feel anger for someone else. When others take advantage of you, either by abuse or demanding too much, it is normal and healthy to get angry. The same happens with neglect. When you are overlooked at the office, or not given the attention you needed as a child, the long term effects can lead to repressed anger or denial. Denial that you were treated unfairly comes at a great expense. To perpetuate that lie, you must believe you aren’t worthy of acknowledgment.
This excerpt from the Shelter From The Storm workbook explains:
“The effects of child sexual abuse can lead to chronic anxiety, eating disorders, dissociative disorder, depression, promiscuity, alcoholism, and a host of other problems. If you had not been abused, your life would have been different. You might have been more confident, less angry, and more stable in your personal behavior. But the reality with which you must deal is that you were deeply hurt, and you do have a great deal of anger. You may need to express appropriately your anger again and again until you have been released from the rage within. Allow yourself to feel the loss that you have experienced due to your abuse.”
Is It Okay To Be Angry With God? My answer is a resounding YES. The truth is if you ARE angry with God, it is because you see him as a co-perpetrator. After all, He knew the abuse was going on and He stood by and did nothing. Right? Let me clarify my response. It IS okay to be angry with God but it is not okay to stay angry with the One who can bring healing to your life. God is big enough to handle your anger. He made you and understands you. He’s the only one who really does.
Maya Angelou says in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, “Of all the needs a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.”
I refer again to the Shelter From the Storm workbook:
Many survivors wonder where God was when they were being abused. As we’ve said before, no easy answer exists, but God gives us wisdom on all questions. Some struggle with the question, “Why does evil exist?” Others have cried out to God from the time of the abuse to the present. Some speak of seeing Jesus or of some miracle that seemed to have taken place during their abuse, while others simply have had a hope of something good about life. It seems that many were unable to let go of this hope, no matter what was done to them or what they did themselves. They never stopped hoping for something good to happen to them.
God was at work in this belief, hope and desire. Even though we may not have been aware of it, God was there. He was there when you were being abused. God was there in your loneliness. He was there in your pain. God was the One who gave you this hope.”
Anger is an energy force inside the body. It needs to be released. That is why we raise our voice or clench our fists or kick the door or …God forbid… smack the kids. It releases energy. Pay attention to the first warning signs in your body. Does your heart beat faster, the hair stand up on your neck, hands get sweaty, knees feel weak, body shake, face turn red, veins throb, start to cry? There are early physiological warning signs. That’s the time to pay attention and begin to manage the strong emotion rising inside you before it become a torrent you cannot control.
Take a walk, jump up and down, scream into a pillow, punch a pillow, rip up old magazines, shoot some hoops, throw rocks into the creek. Get creative with ways to release your anger. Don’t hurt others or break things, but GET IT OUT.
A little grammar lesson: The prefix “dis” means the opposite of. For example:
Other states of “dis” where there is an incongruence between beliefs or values and actions include : Disturbed, disillusioned, discombobulated, dissent, disgrace, distant, disdain, dismember, disguise, disparity, disruption and dissonance.. (Melissa Bradley: The Three Stages of Healing)
Your body is designed to be pain free and functioning normally. It should be in a state of “ease”. When there is stress and tension in the body it is then in a state of dis-ease. When stress is not released and stored in the body long-term, it becomes “disease”. The three most common conditions in an over-stressed body seems to be migraines, ulcers, and fibromyalgia. That is why the Bible says, “When I remained silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (New International Version)
You should never lose your anger over injustice, but instead learn to use your anger constructively. Confront the offender gently but firmly, write a letter to your congressman, picket, take the offender to court if necessary. Find your voice and confront injustice wherever you find it, but don’t allow anger to rob you of your health and happiness.
Finally, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not necessary to get angry over every little offense. There are enough real problems in the world to demand your attention. Learn to disregard the issues that shouldn’t be your priority.
The Miracle of Easter is not that Christ rose from the grave. He’s God. He can do that. He didn’t need our help or our permission. The real miracle is that God resurrects our lives and brings beauty from ashes. That does, however, require our permission and cooperation. You see, while God is all-powerful and all-knowing and is everywhere at one time, he does limit himself to our free will. His constant desire is to resurrect broken shattered people and create in them a new spirit and a new reality. We can accept that offer – or not.
God is in the resurrection business; bringing the dead to life, making all things new, replacing faulty thinking with his truth. We see his resurrection power in nature. Winter gives way to Spring. Seemingly dead branches burst into green leaves. Flowers fill the earth and animals come out of hiding. It’s a beautiful thing to see an alcoholic put down the bottle forevermore or a criminal come to repentance. A person at death’s door comes back to full recovery or an amputee runs a marathon, but miracles are happening all around us every day and go unnoticed.
A changed life is a miracle of highest value, one that is available to every one of us. When Jesus walked this earth he healed the sick, caused the blind to see, the lame to walk and the dead to come back to life. Sometimes it isn’t as obvious as a medical miracle, a drug addict recovering, or a new Christian giving up drastic destructive patterns of behavior. We may not see the newfound hope and peace that enters a person’s soul because death has been conquered through Easter.
So often people say, “I’m a good person. I don’t need Jesus. There isn’t anything I would do differently if I became a Christian.” They may not do anything differently but they would be different. The miracle of Easter is that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt where we will spend eternity. Those without Christ hope they will go to heaven. Those who are in Christ know they will.
Until that question is settled deep within each human heart, there is a gnawing worry that one may not be “good” enough to get through those pearly gates. In fact, the Bible does say, “There is none good. No, not one.” (Romans 3:12) In this passage, Jesus is drawing a distinction between man’s standard of goodness and God’s standard. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) In other words, no matter how good a person is, no one will ever be good enough for a perfect, holy God. Yet God in his mercy made a way where there was no way. We are made perfect in him (Jesus) who knew no sin.
Easter and Christmas are the two Christian holidays that are celebrated around the world. In fact, the only reason we have Christmas is to prepare for Easter. Jesus was born to die so that we can live. Not just for assurance of an eternity of peace and perfection but so that we can have life on this earth and have it more abundantly. Jesus said that in John 10:10. My favorite Christmas song recorded by my favorite recording artist, John Berry, speaks to the peace of Christmas that is only possible by the fulfillment of the Resurrection. These are the lyrics to the beautiful video link below.
My Heart is Bethlehem:
Eternity stepped into time
And drew a mortal breath.
This mystery so clearly seen
The world could not forget
That in the town of Bethlehem
In the most unlikely place
God the father wore a child’s face.
There’s something in the heart of God
So purely meek and mild
That finds its best expressions in
The longings of a child.
For every child’s heart has hungered
To be found and loved and known
A someone who would make their heart a home.
My heart is Bethlehem.
I will make room for Him.
This humble dwelling place
Made worthy by his grace.
This child is still adored
Because he still is born
Deep in the hearts of men
My heart is Bethlehem.
I wish for you this Christmas Eve
That you would find true peace
But silent nights are holy nights
And wonders never cease.
For there is no remembering
The ghost of Christmas past
For God’s forgiveness finds
Your heart at last.
My heart is Bethlehem.
I will make room for him
This humble dwelling place
Made worthy by his grace.
This child is still adored
Because he still is born
Deep in the hearts of men
To love and not condemn.
My heart is Bethlehem
My Heart Is Bethlehem – John Berry
When I think of my own life, I see resurrection from depression, poverty, shame, mental illness, ignorance, religiosity and the list could go on and on. Only those who have known me most of my life could see that change, however. The transformation has been very slow and often methodical. I was always the “good” girl so there wasn’t a transformation on the outside. It was a condition of my heart; a peace that passes all understanding, an acceptance of my life’s story, and a reaching outside myself to be focused on others instead of my own pain and struggles. The beauty of Easter is a transformed life. Easter blessings to all of you.
Happy Mother’s Day
The are families everywhere who celebrate this day with memories too personal and too precious for outsiders to share. We all have a mother and everyone’s memories are unique to them alone. We have a day set aside to honor those who not only gave us life, but taught us how to live it. I stand in deep appreciation to those women. Not just “traditional” mothers, but birth mothers, adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers raising grandchildren, step-mothers, stand-in mothers, “second-mothers”, and anyone else who rises to the occasion when the need arises. We revere motherhood, as well we should. No one sacrifices more than a mother who loves her child.Yet, there is a dark side to this day. Mother’s Day is not always butterflies and flowers. Sometimes it is a painful reminder of what never was. This blog is dedicated to all those who cannot embrace beautiful memories of the one who brought them into this world. When birth is just biology and not a sacrifice of love, that child struggles forever to make sense of it all.
This reminiscence was written by a member of a Shelter From the Storm group I facilitated in 2001. It is posted for you with permission by the author, who wishes to remain anonymous.
LONGING FOR MY MOTHER’S LOVE
April 17, 2001Oh, how I long for my mother’s love; the one that I see so clearly in my mind. How she picked me up as an infant and held me close to her saying, “welcome to the world my child. I am so glad God gave you to me to care for, to love, to teach, and to help you grow. Welcome to the world my child and I love you so. I may not be able to protect you from all harm’s way, but I will do my best and teach you how to protect yourself. I will show you how to care for yourself and others and how to love God most of all.”
As a young child I would come running into her arms and she would swoop me up and swing me around. My mom was the best mom in the world. She was a beautiful mom. I knew she loved me so. She told me all the time. She showed me with her eyes and her loving gentle touches on my face and arms. Her hugs were warm, gentle and loving. I loved to snuggle next to her, as she would read to me or let me watch her sew. She would lift me up to see things that were too high for me to enjoy. She would set me in her lap and talk to me and tell me how special I was and how much she and God loved me.
As I grew older she was always there to teach me new things like how to tie my shoes, to read, to write. She enjoyed me being around her and always smiled as if she was glad to see me. She was encouraging when I needed it and inspired me to always do my best, yet accepting me for what I did. She loved me unconditionally as much as a human can. But always reminded me that where she was not able to, God was. In my teen years she knew just how much to be there and when to let me go. I always knew she was there in a moment if I called to her. We had fun together and enjoyed shopping, and cooking, and doing special things together.
Life passes by to quickly for it was off to college and then the wedding. It was a beautiful wedding, one a princess would be proud of. But the best part was that you did it all just as I wanted and you loved my husband-to-be. You treated him with the same love and kindness and acceptance I had been shown my whole life long. I hated we moved away so far for I missed you by my side. But your love was always inside me and allowed me to show that love to my husband and children. You were a wonderful grandmother to them. Loving them for the individuals they were, sharing your wisdom and knowledge with me and always giving your hugs and kisses to them. They would sit in your lap, lavished by your hugs and kisses and I was reminded of the days you held me and comforted me so for love or when I needed it. You were so proud of them and always praised me for being a good mom to them. I had a good teacher you know.
Life is too short and death took you too soon, for I grieve for you and long for those days of old. But there is a truth and paradox to this story I’ve told. For in many ways you really died long before I knew you, for the mother I long for is the mother of my mind. The one I see so clearly, the one I hold inside is the one I miss so much; the one that is in my mind. You always made fun of me and scolded me for my make believe and fantasy world as a child but, you see, that is where you lived, dear sweet mother of mine. For if I had to live in reality this is not what I would have seen. To see you as it really was is so painful to remember. I know that deep inside somewhere there are good things to remember of you, and I am told that someday those things will come back to me. But first I have to remember the reality and be honest with myself and speak the reality of what really was. For it is what never was that I grieve for so today.
I don’t remember words of love, comfort, and acceptance. I don’t remember hugs and kisses and snuggling close to you. I don’t remember being told you were glad I was born and was yours. I don’t remember sitting in your lap and being read to and listened to and watch you sew. I don’t remember being told that God loves me and that He would protect me when you couldn’t be there for me. I don’t remember you loving or caring for yourself or showing me how to care for others and myself. I only remember criticism and harsh words not being able to live up to your expectations or do all you asked. But I never quit trying for if I could just be good enough and do good enough then you would love me like the mother of my mind. I don’t remember hugs and kisses and I was so scared to get close to you. For all I remember is the hitting and yelling and screaming and the words you would lash out at me. Telling me how bad I was, how it was my fault, how stupid I was, why couldn’t I do it right, how evil I was, that you were going to punish me and God would punish me more.
It didn’t take me long to learn to see and hear myself saying that for the mother of my mind would never do that and I wanted you to be her so bad. I was so afraid to get close to you but I wanted to so much. Just to feel your touch and hold my hand and hug me, please one time. For the memories in my mind were fading fast I had to keep going away to keep them near. Then you would yell at me for not paying attention, but that wasn’t really you, for the mother of my mind would not yell and scream and tell me such things. I wanted to be so near, please hold me mother dear. But when you got close it was not hugs and loving touches you showered me with. It was hits with your hand or switches or spoon, or whatever was near. But that was not “My mother’ for my mother of my mind loved me and would not hurt me. So soon I became the bad mother, I am the one who did bad and had to punish myself. I never saw it was my mother. It was some woman who had to punish me for my wrong doing. I never could clean good enough, do school work good enough, anything to make you love me. So I would start to punish myself long before you.
But I could escape back to fantasy land where the mother of my mind was. She would love me and hug me and hold me so dear. I would sit and rock myself trying to feel what it would feel like. But it could not penetrate the numbness as hard as I would try. I would play with my dolls and love them and hug them, and then hit myself and scratch myself and try to hurt myself so that I wouldn’t feel the pain from you. But then one day you took my dolls away, you told me I was too old. Ten-year-olds don’t play with dolls. That’s OK mom. I have my fantasy world and I have lots of babies remember, 72, I told you so, and I loved them all. I would hold them and rock them and cuddle them and tell them how much I loved them.
I don’t remember running into your arms and being swooped up. I don’t remember seeing kind gentle eyes that told me how much you loved me. I don’t remember you telling me how God loved me so. For I was always running away from you to the mother of my mind. For she was the one who loved me so and would keep me from harm. I remember your eyes, how mean they would get and how the anger would spill out like a volcano. I didn’t know what I did wrong, but I knew I must have done something really bad for with a vengeance the words would lash out and the spankings and I kept saying, “I promise I will do better. I promise. Please stop.” But like other things in my life stop meant nothing. So I vowed I would do it right. I would make it perfect. If I was good enough you would love me like the mother of my mind.
As my teen years came and there was so much inside I wanted to share with you, the mother of my mind wasn’t really enough anymore. I could not connect with a God of love that my friends told me of. I was in so much pain, but I could not show it. “No, hush, don’t say a word –remember the family’s name, you don’t tell family secrets.” I saw you and dad drink each night your sorrows away. It seemed to numb you both from what life had thrown your way. So I turned to the bottle so easily within my reach. It didn’t take much to finish numbing the pain away, for I still lived in my fantasy world and the bottle just took off the edge. When more was needed, I could obtain it for there were other homes and places I could calm myself. But never to go too far and be out of control, for hush, remember the family name. Oh, how I screamed out for someone to hear. But it all fell on deaf ears and eyes and so lived on what became my reality of me being the bad person and the mother of my mind.
Marriage soon came; how I wanted mine to be different. I tried so hard but like the child it didn’t matter. It was never good enough. For the pattern that was set inside was an impossible one to obtain. And with the expectations so high and reality knocking at the door it seems I failed at every attempt to be the wife and mother I had in my mind. For the harder I tried, things looked OK from the outside but inside the turmoil remained. The mother of my mind grew dim for I became the mother of reality. I can’t hold on to the mother of the mind much more. Numbing helps one cope; when you can’t control the numbness then help it along some more. Drinking was a way to numb. Then pills took their toll. As I watched this women dying and not being honest with herself I watched a part of me die too and the mother of my mind. For when she died in my arms how I wanted her to stay. Please stay until you become the mother of my mind. It was so painful to watch you slip away in pain. I know it wasn’t just physical pain, I could see it in your eyes. If only we could try again. But wait, she doesn’t have to die. I can bring forth the mother of my mind. For she will never die – she will always be my mother in my mind.
If only I had known many years ago, how I would pass on my mother of my mind to my children who have their own. For as hard as I have tried to be to them the mother of my mind, they too feel cheated from the love they wanted. My wounds too deep to not let the hurt keep a wall between us. If I had only known that the reality mom I was becoming was only slightly better than mine. For the deep pain inside kept me from really becoming the mother of my mind. But even though the step was small, a step was made closer to becoming the mother of my mind. I can not change the past and what my mother was. I can not change my children’s experience and the mother I was. I can only love them now and be more real to them and see my mother of reality and put to rest the mother of my mind. I can never have what wasn’t, I can never go back again, but I don’t have to let the mother of my mind keep me from reality.
Although it is painful to see and feel and I know I have just begun, but it is a journey I must take, a road I must go down. I’m sorry, mother of my mind. It is time for you to die. I must face reality and grieve what wasn’t there. I am sorry, mother of reality, that we didn’t share the love, a longing for my mother’s love and in turn a daughter’s love that I wanted to give. I pray for healing for us both, I pray that you are at peace. I am OK, and I hope the same for you. I pray for healing for my kids and that soon this fantasy world will be gone so that I may live in reality and be there for them. I am so fortunate for God has blessed me with special spiritual sisters to show me what I missed. He has blessed me with people to help me along the way. He has blessed me with angels here on earth to walk the journey and give me strength and encouragement. I am sure in time when the healing is done; I will remember the love that you, my reality mother had for me, for I know it was the best you could give. I treasure the times I remember; the good times with you, my real mother and not the mother of my mind. For in the passing of her (the mother of my mind) I am free to become what God intended me to be. I love you Mom!
This Father’s Day…
I want to pay tribute to those men who stand in the gap for absentee fathers; those who are fathers to the fatherless.
I work with a lot of children who do not have a father in their lives. Or worse yet, the fathers are there – causing havoc and needless pain.
When God designed fatherhood, he planned for men to stay with their children, to provide and protect them and LOVE them as he encourages their developing selves within the context of family.
In our society today, fathers abdicate, abandon, or refuse to ever acknowledge their roles in their child’s life to the extreme detriment of their children and to society.
Consider the following statistics:
Father Factor in Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Researchers at Columbia University found that children living in two-parent households with a poor relationship with their father are 68% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households. Teens in single mother households are at a 30% higher risk than those in two-parent households.
Father Factor in Child Abuse – Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect. The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000.
Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.
Adolescent girls raised in a 2 parent home with involved Fathers are significantly less likely to be sexually active than girls raised without involved Fathers.
But I don’t want to focus on the “bad” fathers. We can’t fix them or the problem itself. Let’s talk about what we can do. This blog is in appreciation for the men who go above and beyond the call of duty to their own children to make a difference in the lives of other children.
My own father was abusive and I dreaded every moment in his presence. But there was a man who lived next door who had a blind, physically handicapped and mentally retarded daughter. I had the privilege of growing up under their shadow. My contact with him was limited but very powerful.
This was in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During a time in our society when children who were severely handicapped or deformed were hidden away from society, Mr. Jones took his daughter shopping, to restaurants, to the park; anywhere she wanted to go. Often, I was allowed to go on these excursions and I will remember his kindness the rest of my life. He showed me the tenderness and concern every child deserves from their own father. Years later when I met a Godly man I knew what loving well looked like.
We are always developing new terminology to fit our changing society and an often used current phrase is “father wound”. This refers to the open wound of a person’s heart that is left unhealed after a father has abandoned or abused his offspring. Those children grow into adults having no idea how to achieve intimacy or connection and closeness when they were deprived of affection and praise from their dads.
I know a 28 year old man who has set his own personal life aside to raise his young brother and sister because both their parents are incarcerated. He didn’t have to do that. He could very easily have decided that it’s finally his time to live his life. He traded in his opportunity for education, finding a wife and having children to do homework, meal prep, field trips, and social activities with his young siblings. They are his priority because he knows what it is like to grow up with those same parents who don’t value the children.
I know a teacher who has taken 2 foster kids under his wing and provided new clothes and shoes for the summer. He drops by their foster home regularly and brings pizza or a Publix gift card. He’s not a relative or their foster parent or a neighbor, and he isn’t their teacher. He simply crossed paths with these kids and knows they need extra encouragement along with trendy clothes to help their self-esteem.
Recently I watched as a older man sought out a middle school child whose father is completely out of his life. He sat beside him and pursued a conversation with the child until they found some common interest. The man encouraged the boy in his pursuits, complimented his intelligence and, in general, showed interest in him.
These are the silent heroes in our society who hold the fabric of precious young lives together.
It’s almost impossible NOT to know a child who has a father wound. The rest of us have a choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution. If you know a child growing up without a father, spend time with them. Listen to them and encourage them. It is our joy and privilege to come alongside a fatherless child. Whether we are involved for a moment or a lifetime, it makes an impact on a developing child.
This Father’s Day, send cards and visit your own father if that’s your desire, but don’t overlook the other men who take on the role of “Dad” to those less fortunate. It DOES take a village to raise a child and we are all responsible for the “orphans” in our midst, whether they are orphaned through death or abandonment. Give a child a smile. It doesn’t cost you a thing and the rewards are immeasurable.
Dr. Karen McDonald
Dr. Karen McDonald is the author of Racheal’s Rest’s BLOGS. These BLOGS are thoughts, tools and experiences that Karen wanted to share with you and are in no way “counseling”. If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of sexual abuse, sex trafficking and/or domestic violence issues, contact us today to get more information about Racheal’s Rest private counseling, workshops and retreats to begin your journey to emotional health.