Setting Boundaries With Parents: Psychological & Emotional Abuse
Editor’s Note: Emotional and psychological abuse are real. Their damage is valid. Their pain is pain. If you have or are experiencing (or aren’t sure) emotional or psychological abuse, I beg of you to do a little research and confide in someone safe. Because of it’s nature in damaging a healthy self that would leave in pursuit of protection, we often remain in the harmful situation, handicapped. Or, when life moves along, we remain in a state of denying it’s occurrence. Leaving a psychologically abusive home was the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life, but it bulldozed down the forest and made way for my heart and my future. Today, Candice Noble bravely shares some of her story. – Lauren
I grew up with an abusive and manipulative father. It wasn’t exactly hidden from me as a child; I heard the arguments and had some sense (in a child like way) that dad was hurting mom. I even witnessed a disturbing scene where my mother had to literally fight for her life when my dad went into an uncontrollable and irrational rage against her. My mom left my father when I was six years old.
My dad’s selfish and abusive personality wasn’t limited to my mother, but I didn’t realize I was a victim until I turned twenty. One night, he verbally attacked me over the phone and accused me of all the damage in our relationship. He was responsible for it, but in one call, he shifted all the blame to me. Fourteen years of his neglect, his instability, his hurtful selfishness, his manipulation somehow became my fault.
After that event I began reviewing, in objective honesty, all the things he had said and done to me over my life. Because of that blatant attack, I could finally see the other assaults that I chose to brush off and ignore before. That single undisguised act of aggression tore the veil from my eyes and I could see his past and present behavior for what it truly was: his emotional and psychological abuse. His manipulation.
Psychological and emotional abuse is a tricky little beast. It can easily be dismissed or covered up so well that the victim has a difficult time identifying it as abuse. Generally speaking, if it feels like abuse and fits a certain set of standards then it is abuse, and it needs to be addressed. I put up with years of “this doesn’t feel right” before I finally could identify it as abuse.
Once I began to identify abusive behaviors, I had to let go of the “healthy” father/daughter charade that tore me up from the inside out. I had to set a boundary line of protection in order to pursue safety. In my case, that meant stopping all communication with him.
I hate to admit it, but I feel a sense of relief after letting go of the relationship I clung to for so long with my father. It feels as if I’ve been on the brink of suffocation for years and now I’m finally allowed to breathe.
When we become a Christian (or are raised Christian), we can lose sight of the need for boundaries. To some of us, being “a good Christian” has meant that we have to endure someone’s abuse for any number of misguided pious reasons: It’s an act of forgiveness, it shows love, they’re an authority figure, or it’s to further a witnessing ministry. These are all ignorant assumptions created by playing fast and loose with the interpretation of scripture (be it ourselves or others doing the interpreting).
Yes, we are suppose to forgive others if we wish to be forgiven by the Father. But forgiveness means letting go of any hatred or bitterness in your heart towards the offending person and not seeking revenge on them. It does not mean you have to allow a habitual abuser into a space that leaves you vulnerable to their attacks.
Yes, you are to still love the person but that doesn’t give them the right to exploit that love to manipulate you and you don’t have to stand for that manipulation.
Yes, in the structure of the family, they may be classified as the “authority” figure but that authority becomes illegitimate once the abuser uses that authority in an inappropriate manner. God does not turn his eyes from hurting children, caring only that they submit to authority – whatever that authority be.
Yes, you are to be a living and speaking witness but you are not asked to suffer for anything other than the Gospel. Are they abusing you strictly because you’re a bold follower of Christ, or because they’re abusive and need someone to horde an illusion of power over? In other words you are to endure persecution for the Gospel but you shouldn’t feel obligated to endure personal attacks that are unrelated to your belief in Christ.
Furthermore, Christ Himself said that once you have spoken your piece concerning Him to others and they reject it, you are allowed to take that gospel elsewhere to those who will receive it (Luke 9:4-6). Once you’ve exhausted all your ministering resources on an abusive person then do not, I repeat, do not feel an ounce of guilt about taking yourself and your ministry elsewhere to those who will hear it (one of Christ’s favored phrases “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 11:15).
It is not your job to change this person. Only God Himself can do so. Remaining with an abusive person for the sake of changing them through your positive influence is a misguided perspective, nearly certain to fail – and it places you in suffering that is not required or expected of you.
In the end, the excuses used to continue a hurtful relationship fall short of one very clear truth: If Christ, God in flesh sinless and holy, saw you of enough worth to willingly suffer and die for then that means you retain an incalculable value. Things that are of high value deserve protection. Please, do not tolerate a person who doesn’t see that value and treats you in a way that suggests you are common trash, because you are not common trash. You are inherently valuable because you bear the image of God.
Your situation may not require that you cut off communication from the person harming you, but if you’re being systemically hurt (mentally or physically) you still need an established line of defense and safety. This can be as simple as speaking up against a hurtful word or action.
Maybe they will listen, repent, reform their ways, and this will lead to a healthy and beneficial relationship. If they won’t stop, or it is consistently harmful, it is time to let go of that relationship and that person. It will hurt or feel foreign to you at first. You may be criticized for the action you take. But, it’s better than the slow and painful death of your spirit (or your body if it has crossed the line to physical abuse).
If you can’t “let go” of the relationship because it involves a family member and you’re still dependent on them, please seek the safety of someone you trust. Find another family member or a trusted friend if for nothing else but a temporary shelter.
You have a right and a responsibility to protect yourself physically and mentally and communicate your value by telling others you will not tolerate their abuse. Trust me I know it’s scary and there are a number of reasons why you don’t want to oppose them and cause conflicts. I’ve been there and done that. Though it is frightening, it is crucial to your future. You have no need to feel guilt, shame, or fear as a result of upholding your value and maintaining your health to someone who doesn’t see the importance of either.
If you have experienced emotional or psychological abuse and have resources that you recommend to other readers, please feel free to leave them in the comments. We realize that this is frequently under-addressed in our community, and we are striving provide more love, support and encouragement for you as you pursue safety for your heart. Thank you, beautiful women.
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