One of the more damaging things that dysfunctional homes produce, particularly substance-addiction homes, is children who grow up confusing pity with love. At adolescence these children choose boyfriends or girlfriends they pity, thinking they're in love. They choose friends they pity, thinking they can rescue them. Or they choose friends unwisely simply because, deep down, they don't think they deserve any better.
I have confused pity with love my whole life, and it wasn't until this year, having silenced my mom's voice in my life through an ultimatum--stop drinking and verbally abusing me, or I stop the relationship--that I've become completely conscious of my dysfunctional pitying.
Like so many of my posts, this one is primarily me preaching to myself about past mistakes so I won't repeat them. My word for 2015 is discernment.
Here are a few examples of my folly.
There was a 70-year-old woman in our former church who didn't have any family support, no children of her own, who had come out of an abusive childhood home (physical and mental abuse). Abrasive at times, judgmental, and gossipy, she loved attention and would go to great lengths to get it, even monopolizing Bible studies with her grandstanding, exaggerating situations to garner pity, and manipulating people for her own ends. Truly, she only cared about herself and used people at will, but there was some kindness there at times--perhaps just enough to rope people in.
When her Bible study leaders, a married couple, sat down with her and told her she had to change her behavior or not come back to study, she called me and poured out her sob story, garnering much pity, even as I sympathized with her study leaders, being acquainted with her dysfunctional personality myself. What did I do, with my pitying ways? With husband's permission I started a Bible study here for "my friend" and her husband and one other family, with the permission of her former study leaders (the husband being an elder).
They came once and then came up with excuses (and sometimes we had to cancel due to illness), primarily because it wasn't large enough for her to get any real attention, and she didn't want a Bible study. She wanted attention and pity.
When her husband fell on some ice and became partially disabled for a season, she would call and ask to come over and watch a family movie with us, while still not being available for Bible studies. She was desperate for fellowship, she would say, but it always came out the same--her being an attention monger and subtly abrasive, while not really caring about us (isn't true fellowship a give and take?), or even really caring about her husband, although it took time for me to see this truth.
The other family (mother and two adult daughters. one of whom was severely disabled) came for several months, but I had to discontinue it because of worsening anxiety disorders here, and because I learned this family already belonged to six Bible studies. They certainly didn't need another, especially if it was stressful for us, the Bible study invite having included a dinner here beforehand.
I hate quitting things and feel like a failure every time it happens, but I chronically overextend myself and have to quit something at least a couple times a year. This overcommiting is another characteristic of adult children of alcoholics. They try to rescue so many people, they end up messing up their own lives.
That's where I drew the line when deciding whether to quit something: My children come first. God blessed me with them as my primary ministry and responsibility, outside of being a wife.
Some adult children of alcoholics grow up to drink themselves and attract enablers, rather than trying to rescue people (or they do both). I ended up with the least damaging characteristics, and for that I'm grateful to God, who had his hand in my life even before I sought him.
We have a neighbor boy who lives with his grandmother, who has raised him since he was 18 months old, following the death of his mother. He came to Bible study here for two years, but that ended recently, and he also accompanies us to AWANA. Learning that three nights per week he had to go with his grandmother on her night-time custodial jobs, lasting until 10 PM, I offered to watch him a couple nights a week. His grandmother initially said she was thinking about asking for my help anyway. She indicated she would call me the next week to discuss it.
Instead of ever calling, she just came to the door one day the next week, and dropped him off, telling me he had autism, anger issues, depression, and ADHD. This gave me no option, without hurting the child, of backing out, in my mind. I hadn't noticed all of these disorders when he came for Bible study. He was relatively easy to deal with in our prior experience, and it didn't seem like it would be an over-extension to help them out.
I didn't like the way she handled it up front, as we weren't prepared for him that first day. Not to mention, I already have my hands full with my own children's disorders. But it felt like the right thing to do, so we gave it a try.
His behavior became problematic within two weeks, primarily because he was here far more hours and became overly comfortable, not caring about displaying his best guest behavior. There were other hardships entailed in the endeavor, including that he frequently came while ill. Over his Christmas holiday from school, we prepared for him as usual, but he never came those two weeks, and we didn't get a phone call. I couldn't go anywhere those days, expecting him at 4 PM each of our non-holiday babysitting afternoons.
He showed up at my door again after he returned to school, with no explanation or phone call. I had called the previous day to say we had the flu, just in case he showed up, but they didn't get the message.
Today I wrote her a note, giving her all the reasons I couldn't continue to help right now--there were four legitimate reasons--and I offered to watch him just once a week after cold and flu season was over, in early May. Beth's arthritis gets worse with each virus, since the autoimmune response to illnesses causes the disease to attack her joints even more. And her immunosuppressant drug makes illness problematic for another reason, although she's made it through the flu without a doctor visit, thank the Lord.
I have tried to help other neighborhood kids, telling our friend Lexie to come two afternoons a week for homework help. This child, after already being held back in early elementary, was seriously behind in her first year of middle school, failing most classes.
She either didn't show up on the designated homework days, or she showed up and wasn't interested in doing her homework for more than ten minutes. She wanted to play or have my undivided attention. She and her mother were taking advantage of me. Neither truly cared about this young lady's school performance (her mother refused to work with her, the reasons for which I'm unaware).
I still tried to counsel where I could when she came over to play (which happened less and less as she neared 13 years old) but otherwise I stepped away from this family, who also tried to chronically show up here while ill.
Their mother drinks, which is why I initially felt pulled to help change the course of our young friend's future (education giving her options for success, for example), but in the first few years we knew her, I was unaware of her mother's drinking. The brother came over for mostly outside playtime starting last summer, and he has his own serious problems.
Unfortunately, our young friend Lexie was recently sent back to fifth grade, which is probably all the schools could think of as a solution, given the family's failure to engage. The mother blamed the school problems on her daughter's ADHD, and on the school's failure to make allowances for her daughter's "handicap". Really, that was the easy way out, although I do believe Lexie has learning disabilities. But, she played outside all over the neighborhood and beyond until dark most nights, failing to do any homework. As she gained friends on other streets she was less and less engaged here, and I quickly gave up, perceiving that I wanted her to succeed more than she wanted it herself.
Some people who need help don't want it. They just want attention, but on their terms. They like to complain, but won't listen to solutions or follow through with them. They want your sympathy, your time, your energy, and any other resources you'll give them, but they don't want to behave responsibly or maturely, and unless you're a counselor, you may be wasting your time.
I just got a phone message from the 70-year-old woman from my former church, and it prompted me to sit down and preach this post to myself--warning me against pitying and enabling people who just want to suck me dry.
She left a long message, asking me to request that my children pray for her husband, and telling me many things to garner my pity, while at the same time insulting me subtly. She indicated how much she missed my children, but in truth, when she's here she doesn't pay much attention to them. She just wants our full, undivided attention. The spotlight must be on her, or she's not fulfilled or happy with the situation. I made the mistake of sending her a Christmas card, I suppose, which prompted the call. I had stepped away from her and her ongoing dysfunction last fall.
I have no trouble holding my children accountable for any dysfunctional behavior, but with adults, I shy away from confrontation, unfortunately.
This year, 2015, I will stop making these same mistakes. I must wait when the desire to help (or pity) comes knocking at my heart. Does the person truly want help? Can I really afford the time and effort? Do they have a history of dysfunction, and as such did they find me gullible and attractive as a target? How will it impact my family? What does the Word say? Can I love them through prayer instead? What is my primary motivation in wanting to help--is it love or pity? Prompted by the Word, or something else?
I enjoy immensely the time I spend loving our Compassion children--it's a worthy effort and absolutely deserving of our time and money. I must focus my efforts on my family and these worthy endeavors, and give all the other situations to God.
People stuck in dysfunctional lifestyles don't need other people necessarily, they need God. They need a teachable heart, a repentant heart, a saved heart. Until God gives them that, or until they tire of living in dysfunction and they're motivated to improve, they must be approached with utmost caution.
Romans 14:12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Romans 2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds
Galatians 6:5 For each will have to bear his own load.
Have you had similar experiences? How do you discern who to help, and who to leave to the Lord?