As you can see from the pictures below, there are many different family cultures. Not one of the family cultures found in the pictures are right or wrong. They simply are. Each family has its own culture. What is your family culture? Does your family have traditions? God-follower? How is money spent or saved? How much value is placed on education? Vacations? Sports oriented? Art and music oriented? Country family? City family?
While there are many traits that are neutral, as seen in the pictures and listed above, some families are living with far more than the neutral culture factors. Verbal/emotional abuse is a family culture factor that is harmful to all family members. It slashes away at the spirit of the victims moment-after-moment, day-after-day.
Summing it all up, friend, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.~ Philippians 4:8, MSG
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law. ~ Galatians 5:22, NIV
The above verses are what I wanted to guide my family by as I raised my children. Believe it or not, in the midst of chaos I believed for many years that I had the happy Christian family of which I had always dreamed. I deeply grieved for a long time when the realization slowly seeped in that that was not the case. I had raised my children in a verbally/emotionally abusive environment. Their father was a rageaholic who, to this day, has refused to admit to raging, much less the damage his raging has caused the family.
Each of us, the children and I, have had to have counseling and even yet, when we hit a snag in our lives we seek out a sound counselor to help us work through the snag. Healing does not take place once for all time. Healing takes time. It comes in layers and waves.
Embedded in my healing was an illustration my counselor gave me in the beginning of my realization: A commander of armed forces had made some serious mistakes over a long period of time resulting in harm to his troops. The commander realized that his mistakes had led to this damage. Overcome with guilt, while the troops were lying around suffering and dying the commander took his sword out of the scabbard and started beating his back with the sword. What use was that? Not only was this action useless, but also harmful. Who was helping the injured, dying troops?!
So it is with we who realize after many years that we have been believing lies and operating on those lies as if they are truth, thus harming our families. Beating ourselves with guilt is not only useless, but dangerous. Who is taking care of our children? Who is assessing the damage and getting the children the help they need – not only getting them from harm’s way, but also to places of healing?
I can tell you from experience that at a time when my family needed my leadership the most, I felt like I was the least qualified to lead. Not only was I struggling to keep guilt from suffocating me, but the grieving process sucked the life from me. How does one make it through times like those? By the grace of God, one day at a time. Sometimes, one moment at a time. Also, I developed the belief that I could change my family tree. I didn’t have to pass this way of being down to my children. I could begin to show and teach them a different way to live. We could break the cycle of abuse. My grandchildren could grow up in a different kind of home – a home where they would feel loved and cherished.
One thing that surprised me during “the realization” was that I hadn’t even shared with my family, my mom, brother, sister, and their families, the extent of the abuse we were enduring. Somehow I thought they should know, or realize how bad things were for us, although I’m not sure how I expected them to know, because I had spent a lot of time and energy trying to make our family look like the happy Christian family (another painful realization).
It was during this time that I realized that silence is one of Satan’s most powerful weapons. A secret, a sin, abuse in the family, ceases to hold power over us when we share the truth of our lives with safe people. We open ourselves to receiving desperately needed help and prayers. Caution! When we have lived for a long time with our secrets concealed close to our heart, it can feel terrifying, like we are going to die, if we let the secret out.
- Please don’t try this alone! Seek out a sound counselor to support and guide you. Some burdens are too heavy to carry alone and this is one of them. All counselors are not created equal. If one counselor does not work for you don’t hesitate to say so and move on to another.
- Have a safety plan in place!!! Review it often, revising if necessary.
- Don’t rush the process! American life may have sped up exponentially, but the human heart, emotions, and spirit still heal at the same speed as when humans first walked the earth.
- Bring your children along with you as you learn, but do not overwhelm them with adult information. Remember the children are your children – they are not your support, or your best friends, or your confidants (another lesson I had to learn the hard way). Energy and support should flow from you to your children not the other way around. Confide in your counselor, and safe friends and adult family members. Encourage, comfort, support, and guide your children. Teach them and answer their questions using age-appropriate information.
- Just a little progress each day is all you need to make! For example, it looks as though it would be impossible to read a thick book turning just one thin page at a time, but that is how it is done. The same is true with our lives. By making small, healthy changes each day, we can look back one day and see how far we have come.
- Don’t give up! The stakes are too high! This is your family tree! You have the power to rewrite your family story – change your family culture – from this day forward. It is so worth it!
- As always, carve out your quiet time with God, in his word, drenching yourself and your family in prayer.