Updated: Jan 13, 2019
As someone who has suffered from relational abuse, do you struggle with Christmas or any of those other type of family gatherings?
There is a lot of advice circling around "out there" about how to get through the holidays with family. And a lot of the advice is good and good for the "usual" family struggles and conflicts that make us all human. Having suffered abuse from family and/or family associations is not the "usual" family struggles, therefore the advice that addresses such, is not applicable for those of us having been effected by abuse.
First of all, trying to figure others out, saying to our selves, “Oh my gosh, I don’t understand why they__________!?”
When it comes to what has happened to us and to what others have done, we have this urge to try and make sense of it. This is also true for those of us who have suffered relational abuse. We want our whys answered. Why did he/she do that? Why don’t they get it? Why don’t they believe me? Why didn’t anybody help me? Why did God let it happen? We want our whys answered so much, we will even come up with our own “rational” to give ourselves the answer to our whys, which may not necessarily be true. We want to be heard, to be understood and then we want others to “get it” and change so they stop hurting us. All of these wants are good if the “right” answers are found and the “right “desire is wanted. The desire to understand and to be understood is a good thing. I believe that it is a God-given desire that fosters us to be in relationship with others, for we were created for relationship.
We are relational beings. But not everyone is good for us to be in a relationship with, logically obvious, but maybe not so obvious to the heart. If this other person is not good to be in a relationship with, the whys of what they do, does not matter. Whatever the why, understanding that it does not change what they have done and what they are doing. Even if you were to understand the why, you understand it, not them. It is for them to understand their why, not you. And to think that if you understood their why, then you could do something to help them “get it”, especially if they are not wanting to “get it”, is nothing but a desire to take control and “fix” the relationship. This is a futile and harmful endeavor with someone who has been and who is abusive. To know their why is not your part, it is their part. So, you say, “they do not want to look at themselves and determine their why, so they can change”. Well, then if they are not wanting to do their part, they are not a safe person.
As most of us know, most incidences of relational abuse happen in families and close familial relationships. Relational gatherings, such as Christmas, can be especially difficult with spouses, ex-spouses, family members, etc, who have not changed their abusive behaviors. Putting ourselves in these relational environments, with those who have been our abusers, leaves us open to their abuse all over again. When these hurts, misunderstandings, and judgments by other family members are the foundation for the relationship within a family, it usually doesn’t go well. For me, there is a tricky balance here. Do you feel like it is a tricky balance? The balance of having relationship with someone without getting re-wounded by their continued abusiveness or their naivety. This is where I have taken the journey of learning and practicing healthy boundaries. Learning to navigate, what is a safe relational situation, and where the boundary is for when it is an unsafe relational situation. Then, not only learning to navigate this but then determining what the boundary is and then how to live my boundary in a steady, calm and appropriate way.
To have real, loving and kind relationships, there needs to be healthy personal boundaries.
First, deep down in your heart, you need to believe that you deserve to be treated with honor, love, and respect. How we see ourselves can (not always) influence how others treat us and/or how we let others treat us. I used to see myself as ugly and dumb, among other things. So, when others treated me as ugly and dumb, I didn’t like it, but I had no boundary, for the way they were treating me agreed with how I thought of myself. So know, that you know, your are valuable and truly see that you have been particularly created unique and beautiful, on purpose for a purpose, to be treated with honor and respect, that you deserve this as Gods greatly loved creation.
Then you need to seek safe relationships. By safe I mean supportive, giving and kind without judgment, manipulation or criticism. I feel that those of us who have been under abuse have had our personal boundaries so violated so much that we lose the ability to even know what a personal boundary is and how to live within our boundaries as we interact in relationships. When you feel frustrated or angry, scared, nauseated, shaky, hurt, violated, pause and think, could this be a personal boundary that is being crossed by another person? We cannot control others, but we can control ourselves. We can choose to let that person continue to cross our boundary or we can make choices that protect us, our values and our person-hood from being hurt and/or taken advantage of. (** See more information on boundaries)
Therefore, valuing and knowing yourself, knowing how you should be treated, knowing the value you hold, knowing your sense of right and wrong, what your boundary is with that person and what to do to facilitate that boundary yourself. Using the analogy of a fence, does the boundary need to be a 3-foot picket fence with this person, that you let in and out of the gate into your yard? This may be perfect for those people who have proven themselves in relationship with you. (***See B. Brown about the marble jar,) Or, does it need to be a 5-foot-thick 24 feet high cement wall? This may need to be the case depending on how dangerous the person is. Or, any other variation in between these two extremes depending on the person and the relationship.
Whatever boundary you need to have in place, it is then lived out by you making the choices in your words, actions and behaviors, to foster your boundary for yourself in your life. Will this have consequences? Yes. Will others test your boundary? Yes. Will others not understand your boundary and try and shame you for it? Yes. Just stay steady in what you know is true for you, in what you know is harmful for you and in what you know that you need to do to stay out of harm's way. This may be new to others in your life but as you stay steady in your truth and what is safe for you and what your expectations of a safe, honoring, respectful and caring relationship is, they will either get used to it and honor it, which will grow the relationship, or those relationships that are not true relationships, will fall away.
Though we want resolution, for things to be OK, for those we care about and those who are supposed to care about us to understand and love us, there is a point in realizing that with those harmful people in your life, this most likely will not happen. Especially if they are not engaging in the relationship by doing their part. Also, there is no reason to continue to stay in harm's way of a harmful person as you wait for them to “get it”. All that will happen is that you will continue to get harmed. When there is no consequence to one’s behavior, they certainly do not change, it’s how we human-beings work. Also, just because you set boundaries, which naturally execute consequences for the other person, it does not mean the other person will change because of those consequences. Boundaries are nothing about controlling the other person to stop them from doing what they are doing. Boundaries are for you, are all about you, your sense of self, your well-being, and your safety when it comes to your heart, mind, soul and body. Staying the same old course hoping something will get better will not change anything. The only thing that will bring change is you, your mindset, and your choices.
It is OK, not to spend the holidays or any type of gathering with someone, or in the presence of someone, who had been abusive and/or who is abusive, emotionally, verbally, physically &/or sexually. I recommend that you do not expose yourself to such individuals. And, it doesn’t have to be an act of anger. It can be an act of calm determination in self control. If others (friends, family) do not understand why you do not want to be around someone who is toxic for you, well, know this…it is not unusual for them to not understand and it is not unusual for them to shame you for not wanting to be around “that person”. It can hurt either way. Giving in to the situation and “putting up” with being in the presence of someone who is harmful to you or triggers you is not good, for it re-wounds you. And if others do not understand your need, to not be in the presence of that person, this can re-wound also. It is for you to weigh for yourself what is best for your integrity, safety and healing. If you choose to keep yourself safe by not being with those who don’t support you, then good for you! Especially when you are in the beginning of your healing journey, you need to protect yourself from being re-wounded, for this only slows down and limits your healing.
Reach out and make Christmas what is good for you and spend Christmas, and all those other holidays, with others who respect and honor you, your "safe" people. Also, just an idea, reach out to others who also do not have safe familial relationships and invite them to Christmas with you. Make your own Christmas moments, memories and traditions. Help at a food bank. There was a time that I did not have access to any safe relationships. Everyone that I knew was harmful and toxic, this was hard, for when having been in abuse, abuse isolates the abused within abusive relationships. So, if you find yourself in this place, where you have no relationships that feel safe, give yourself the OK, that it is OK to be safe by being by yourself. Give yourself permission that you are learning, growing and healing and with time, you will develop happy, healthy, loving, honoring and respectful relationships of your own.
It is my hope for you this Christmas Season that you find in Jesus Christ (the healer of our heart, mind, and souls) His Love for you, His Comfort for you and that ….He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length, the height and depth of the love of God and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory...
Ephesians 3:13-21 (paraphrased)
Mend Your Soul Life Coaching, LLC
**Here is some more information on boundaries. https://www.boundaries.me/blog/how-to-guard-yourself-against-unsafe-family-members
***See B. Brown about the marble jar, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6442YcvEUH8
P.S., These thoughts and opinions are with a person in mind who is not currently being abused. For someone who is being abused, you must get away from the abuser as safely as possible. Call the police as needed to foster safety.