Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dealing With Abusive Parents or Spouses

I wrote a couple weeks ago that I had to cut ties with my mother. As I continue to process the whole experience, I will occasionally write what I hope are helpful tips for those dealing with abusive situations.

1. First, don't let the guilt kill you. You are allowed to feel rotten about your cutting-all-ties decision for one or two days, and then you must let it go. Consider this: You weren't actually the one who decided to cut ties. Your parent (or spouse) made the decision when they continually chose to treat you abusively. Your only decision was to stop enabling their poisonous behavior. Tolerating it is enabling it.

If you begin to feel intense guilt and are constantly second-guessing your decision, you must fight through that. Those feelings are part of codependence; they are unhealthy. Never feel guilty for distancing yourself from abuse. Growing up, I was always afraid that if I told my mother the truth about her poisonous behavior (or her drinking) she'd get so depressed that she'd commit suicide. If you can relate to that, you used to be (or are) codependent. It is not your job to prevent someone from committing suicide. It is not your job to make someone else happy. (This even applies to your children.)

2.  People who have not been emotionally abused, or who are enablers, will hint that your decision is unforgiving and mean-hearted. Don't believe it. Forgiving an emotionally or physically abusive person doesn't stop their abuse. Yes, forgive them, for your own sake. It releases you spiritually and emotionally when you forgive them--just don't mistakenly assume that forgiving means you have to tolerate abuse. You can forgive a person from afar. You can even forgive someone who is already dead. Forgiveness is a spiritual decision and God is our partner in it. Tell God you want to forgive, and then let him work it out in your heart.

3. Family members still stuck in codependence might break off ties with you, or call you and beg you to apologize to the abuser. Don't apologize. Every time we apologize to an abuser, it lets them off the hook for their behavior. Any act that cushions them or somehow prevents them from taking full responsiblity for their behavior, is enabling.  If substance abuse is involved, you can tell the family member not to contact you until they've been sober for 6 months (as an alternative to completely cutting off ties).

4. Your decision and the isolation it causes will be very hard. If you don't know anyone who can understand, pray for support. Several days after I made my decision (and I was in a living hell emotionally), I learned that my 56-year-old friend from church had to cut ties with her abusive mother that same week (even while the mother was in the midst of a cancer diagnosis). My friend didn't know anything about my situation--she just happened to email, asking me for prayer support.  It was divine intervention for me to have someone who understood abuse, and the need to get away from it at all costs.

5. You do not have a cold heart, my friend. You have a healthy heart that desires healthy interaction. Did you hear that? You do not have a cold heart. Love is not about rescuing someone. Rescuing someone is about codependence. Rescuers are not compassionate; they are unhealthy. The Bible asks us to love sacrificially, yes, but that command doesn't refer to codependence. A healthy, biblical love comes from a heart that is full of God's love.  We love because He first loved us.

Conversely, the love of a codependent is a needy, make-me-feel-worthy-by-needing-me love. You don't want someone to need you--unless you have a newborn in your arms and your heart is overflowing with a maternal love. We nurture our children with abandon and joy, but when they can do something themselves, we let them. Letting them begin to take care of themselves, little by little, is part of healthy love. Your worth and usefulness come from God, not from people.

6. Accept that you are not loved by the abuser. Yes, it is painful. Heartwrenching even. But accept it. If the abuser loved you, they wouldn't abuse. They love themselves. Tell God you need love, and let him fill you with it, to overflowing.

Leave a comment if you need prayer. Comments are on delay now--blog owner approval has to come first, before a comment is published. I don't publish comments asking for prayer unless you give me permission.

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3 comments: said...

Sometimes it is so difficult to do the right thing. But I do believe, with my whole heart and soul and being, that God's grace is bigger than everything else and that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, what is impossible for me is not impossible for Him.
I am praying for you. I have not been through the same as you but I have a dear friend who was the grand-daughter of a woman who had caused the next two generations decades of misery. My dear friend eventually broke free and she is a changed woman. Hang on in there. Take each day one at a time. Sandy x

Christine said...

Thank you, Sandy. I appreciate your understanding and your prayers! Praise God that your friend has found peace.

Tesha Papik said...

I have broken ties a few times with my mother. It was painful but needed. We do talk now but we were not close. I was accused just as you said by other family members of not being a "good Christian" however I knew it was what had to be done at the time. At times my heart has broken over the lost relationship... I often cry out to God for him to fill the void. I pray that Jesus would send you his comforter and even someone to be a mom to you! No matter how grown up we are we all need the love of a mom and dad.