It is very common that when the lights go on and we start to come out of ‘the fog’ that we realize we have been living in for a long time, we are excited to tell others what we are discovering and it is frustrating when they react as though we are crazy. You know that look; the look that says “WHAT the HECK? You must be Nuts”
Sometimes people try to talk us out of what we are discovering before we are even finished talking about it. Even worse is when people refuse to listen at all as if to say that if they can’t ‘shut us down’ they will simply block us out. This type of reaction is defining in the way that it sent me the message that I was not worth listening to, or that I ‘was crazy’ or out of my mind, ridiculous, exaggerating etcetera. It was dismissive. The bottom line with these types of reactions is that I had been discounted, devalued, not permitted to have any impact and very much what exactly what I have been used to living with for so long, so the automatic response is NOT to fight to have a voice, it was to question myself again.
It’s typical for a survivor of any type of abuse to try and understand “why” these people do not want to ‘hear them’ and it is also typical to conclude that the person on the receiving end of our story is rejecting our story because they don’t understand it, have never been a victim of any type of abuse, neglect or devaluing/discounting treatment and don’t relate to it in any personal way.
But this is usually NOT why the receiver of the information we so desperately want to discuss, will reject our discoveries. It is far more common that the receiver of this information is way too familiar with it themselves and would rather not face it in their own lives. Think of it this way; if you are in denial, there is no action needed but if you come out of denial usually there are a few decisions to make.
At the beginning of my process of emotional healing, after almost 20 years of searching for the answers and finding only Band-Aids when I needed surgery and stitches, I attended a 3 day seminar about the misuse of power and control in relationships put on by the new therapist I was seeing at the time. The lights started to go on about the second day. I started to pick up on a few things about my mother and about my father in law that offered some clarity into the struggle that I had in relationship with those particular two people. My father in law was more overt in his relational style than my mother so it was easier to see his style of controlling my husband and me, then it was for me to see my mother’s more covert style of controlling me.
That night I came home and burst into the house excitedly telling my husband Jim that his father was an abuser! I stated something like “I know what is wrong in our lives…YOUR father is an abuser!” My husband looked shocked and then he started to look angry. I started to explain what I was learning about how people misuse their power to overpower others and my husband Jim was looking at me like I was nuts! This was HIS father; I mean Jim should have known better than anyone about how his own father ran the show, and how relationship with him was a one way street but none the less he tried to shut me up.
I was excited! I had this feeling that I had found the answer to something extremely important, and I wanted to share it with my husband but he was not hearing me! He didn’t want to hear me. He couldn’t hear me. And the truth is that he was terrified to hear me.
Through attending this seminar about the misuse of power and control in relationship, I was just beginning to comprehend that the “problem” wasn’t actually ME and that glimmer of hope was beyond any hope I had had for years, but Jim was afraid to hear that in case the problem was HIM. And since he believed that his father was his “life’s blood” he could not possibly endure to visit the idea that the problem might be his father either.
Suddenly, Jim wasn’t very happy that I was attending this seminar.
And I was really disappointed. Here I thought that he would be excited to find out that I was discovering a new definition of relationship. That I was learning what LOVE really was and what it wasn’t; that I was learning how controlling abusive people believe that they are the most important person in the relationship and that they keep their victims believing that trash so that they don’t have to operate from the healthy relationship style of equal value, that I thought he would feel like I felt; like I was on a new road to understanding and to healthier relationship and that this road would lead to a happier place for us! And he shut me out.
I had lived with expressions my whole life and I had never thought about them in relation to what they meant. Expressions like “it’s my way or the highway” and “if you don’t like it, tough”. I accepted a social pecking order because it was all I knew. Learning about the misuse of power in dysfunctional relationships, now that was new and it fit with so much of my history with both my family and my husband’s family.
Something clicked into place for me that weekend but getting Jim on board was a whole other story! He had to overcome his fear of facing the truth about his father way before he accepted what I had discovered about his father. He was terrified to ‘see’ his father through that grid of understanding. He falsely believed just as I always had that it was far easier to go along with the way that things had always been than to see the truth and advocate for changes in our relationships with our families.
I persisted in learning about the true definition of love and in my discovery of what healthy relationship was and eventually I realized that even my marriage to Jim was not based on mutual respect or equal value. That was when I realized that if Jim saw his father as controlling and demanding, he would have to see that in himself too. That was not something he was willing to do right away; he liked things the way they were and he had no motivation to change. But I was no longer willing to live in the dysfunction.
Eventually, Jim had to get some help if he wanted to save our marriage. And it was interesting (and frustrating to me at the time) but the way that Jim was finally able to hear me, was to face the dysfunctional father son relationship that he had with his father. He had to see how controlling and manipulative that his father was with him. He had to see the truth about how one sided his relationship with his father was. It was very painful but in the end Jim getting clarity on how he was regarded and disregarded by his father and in seeing the truth about how his father treated and regarded his wife ~ (Jims mother) ~ enabled Jim to see himself in relation to the way he saw me and our kids and how he believed his needs/wishes etc. were more important than ours were. He saw that he didn’t regard us with equal value to himself.
My husband saw ‘giving up his power in exchange for equality’ as a death sentence. He believed that ‘his power’ was all that he had and all that he was. It was a big part of his identity. His self-esteem was grounded in making people comply and obey his wishes. (Just like his father and my mother.) If I jumped, Jim believed he was loved. That was how I proved my love; by being the way he wanted me to be. Just like I did with my mother. The cycle of abuse continues when the grown up abused children adopt the false definition of love they have been raised with believing that compliance and obedience equals or proves respect, love and self-worth and the partner in the relationship goes along with the belief that compliance and obedience will eventually lead to being loved. It doesn’t matter which angle that the false definition comes from, neither is the truth.
Hand in hand these dysfunctional relationship ideas rule the relational world and keep the cycle of abuse and the misuse of power, going. It is very hard to face the truth about disregard and disrespect especially when it comes from our own parents, but living in the dysfunction, trying to guess all the time what was ‘expected’ of me and what to do better next time, was exhausting and therefore even harder.
Jim and I did our individual work and our marriage relationship recovered. Jim surrendered his belief that ‘control over me and the kids’ proved his worth. Our parents were not interested in giving up their power in exchange for equal value and thereby gave up having any relationship with their own children and grandchildren.
Jim and I and our three kids (2 of whom are now adults) are thriving. Our relationships are all based on the true definition of love and are no longer about compliance and obedience. We are no longer exhausted. We live life to the fullest in freedom and wholeness. All of this happened because we were willing to look at things the way that they really were and we were willing to see that there was truth that we had not considered yet.
So next time someone shuts you down and discounts your story or your discoveries, tells you that you were not abused or neglected and infers that you are ‘nuts’ or crazy, don’t be too quick to conclude that they have never been through it themselves. Perhaps, like Jim, they are just trying to avoid having to make major life changes that facing the truth about all this stuff brings about. Don’t let that stop YOU from making the changes that YOU want to make to improve your own life and relationships.
There are two main topics in this post. One is about the way that people react to our stories, discounting and trying to shut us up. The other is about the cycle of abuse in dysfunctional family. Please share your thoughts about these topics or any other thoughts that you wish to share. I look forward to the conversation!
There is freedom on the other side of broken;
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