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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Do I challenge the dysfunctional family dynamic or don’t I?

This is a question that is so often asked, and I’m afraid there isn’t any straightforward response, but there is some thinking in this article to ponder before leaping into the fire!
Let’s assume a family dynamic involves one troublesome member, perhaps in this case a parent, and everything or most things need to be on their terms.  Perhaps they are directive or dismissive or perfectionistic or they are just plain rude and crude.  Maybe they rule with an iron fist.  And let’s assume their’s an historic tyranny of abuse.
It’s probably the case that others within the family have found their own roles in allowing this person to operate the way they have.  It could be more than one person who is narcissistic, but let’s just assume it’s just one for the moment.
Some situations are safe to confront, and some situations just aren’t.  If you are at mortal danger, I wouldn’t recommend you evoke their rage and be blamed for provoking violence.  Yet it’s also a relationship you ought not to be in.  ‘Violent relationship’ is kind of an oxymoron.  Those two words don’t coalesce.
But if a confrontation might involve some angst, and definitely a conflict, but without violence, such a confrontation should be prayerfully considered.
Living as a peacemaker is not about pacifying people and sweeping things under the rug, but it is having the courage to respectfully challenge a situation that isn’t right.
Peacemaking isn’t peacekeeping.  Very far from it.
In many ways we won’t know what we are dealing with until we have confronted it.
We just need to know we are safe, that’s all.
In a very simplistic way, we can imagine there are two scenarios.
The first involves a situation where it isn’t safe to challenge the dysfunction.  In this case boundaries are in order, but having said that, if it isn’t safe to challenge the situation, boundaries are also fraught with some element of risk, even if they are very often necessary for our own safety.  In this situation, the instituting of boundaries has likely led to the circumstance of some constituent of trauma already.
The second situation comes about when we have agreed with ourselves that we do need to confront something of a toxic dynamic.
We pray beforehand.  In fact, we will have been praying right up to the point leading up to this, so when we have decided we will confront this:
Þ           we keep praying for guidance on the method of the confrontation
Þ           the words we will use, asking God for the supply of wisdom that we lack (James 1:5) 
Þ           getting God to prepare our hearts to be both firm though gentle — a difficult balance to strike that demands prayer — and 
Þ           to not set our expectation too high that it will easily be dashed.
In holding the conversation, itself, we wisely consider having another person with us who isn’t biased and can be trusted to be present, simply listen and to provided prayerful care.  A wise peacemaker who won’t exacerbate the situation.
The other person should be allowed a support person as well.  We just need to be sure their support person is as unbiased as ours is.
We need level heads and calm hearts if we are to achieve anything.  Reconciliation, wherever it’s possible, is more important than parties ‘winning’.  Actually, reconciliation IS the win!
It is best to move slowly, and where there is any sign of conflict, even slower.
In these kinds of discussions, people do get emotional.  It is best to gain clarity when one person gets upset, because it is an opportunity to know them better, and to understand what it is they need.  Understanding is the basis of peace in conflict.  We want to know WHY they want what they want.  Everyone has a legitimate ‘why’ when you look at it from their viewpoint.
Only when we understand what they need can we assess whether it is a reasonable request or not.  Too often we assume that requests aren’t reasonable before we even bother to hear them out.  Understanding begets empathy.
In peacemaking circles, we call prejudging the attitudes of others, committing assumicide.
We may too often assume that the antagonist is unreasonable.  It is always wise to confirm whether or not they’re being unreasonable, being careful of course not to slip into confirmation bias — which is the bias that we only see what confirms our original view.
Even if they are being unreasonable, it’s worth the brief amount of time it takes to endeavour to understand why.  There could be a very valid reason why they are being unreasonable.
Whenever it is our aim to have proactive, working relationships, we will need to seek to be committed to confronting conflicts as they arise.  Of course, this is risky business.
It takes courage and humility and a great deal of wisdom to do this well; we need a huge portion of reliance on God’s provision.  Nothing ever gets fixed unless we are prepared to have difficult conversations.  But nothing gets fixed if we don’t plan well and then end up leading to prejudiced conclusions without true regard for how people are being treated.  Only more hurt, more perception of betrayal, more dis-ease, more confusion, less peace.
In terms of the present question, we need to establish whether we are safe or not.  If there is little or no risk of physical, mental, emotional, verbal, or spiritual abuse or neglect, there is no reason why we shouldn’t respectfully challenge dysfunctional family dynamics, though again, the dysfunctional dynamic indicates that challenge will probably spark fireworks.
At the very least, what this affords us is clarity about where we stand.  We do have a choice as to who we will relate with and how.
Before God, it is up to us, as far as it depends on us, to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

One, but we’re not the same

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s too late, tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other... ONE
— One, U2 (1990-1992)
The reality of this life is a stark reminder of how hard it is to live with others... and also in the company of ourselves.  Relationships, whether they’re with others, with ourselves or with God, are so often complicated.
I’ll get to relationships with others, soon.  Here is a note from a recent journal entry... do you relate?
There is a mirage that strikes over the memory, a place and a time in the distant past, or even in the immediacy of what has just been, and we go there and we write, words of challenge and encouragement, for there is no condemnation in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There I was, just as I was there, imagining how hard life was, how difficult people were, how unfortunate the life was that had come to be mine.
Arching the back, clenching the jaw, a furrow on the brow, and no shortage of anguish.  Little was it known that I had a hardness of heart that could not be reconciled; not the way it was — not this way!
To all intents and purposes the life that was mine, the life that seemed so simple once upon a time, had become extraordinarily complex, to the point that I had no choice but to regret breath itself.
So quickly had I forgotten all the goodness that had been poured into what was my life, and all the reasons I had to be thankful.  It was as if there was no memory for these things.  As far as the presence of my thinking was concerned, the realities of goodness that had come to be mine were no longer anywhere in sight.  They’d been stolen.  It seemed I no longer possessed them at all.
There I travailed and couldn’t put a hand on reason.  There was absolutely no way back in the presence of my mind.  There I languished, forever, it seemed.
Until it was the time for the Lord my God to come after me and to rescue me from this Perilous Place of being where I didn’t even know I was lost.
Then it comes to life with others.  What swept us off our feet once again is now a mirage.  They changed or we did.  Or both of us did.  Again, we go to U2’s song:
Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame
When a person is at war with themselves, of course they come to make our lives interminably hard, never quite realising the war being waged within themselves is a tyranny everyone must endure.
Again, there’s that complicated reality with an embattled person — addicted possibly, under self-attack, writhing for reason, seeking it through filters of chaos, expecting you to wield your magic wand, yet somehow feeling like they’re the ones who hold the keys to the city of wisdom.  It is a paroxysm of irrationality.  Again, U2 and One...
Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head
Again, in this struggle in relationship where we can’t live with them and can’t live without them, both of us seem completely beyond any joy, for the very fact that every moment is conflict and loss, turmoil and despair, fear and mistrust.  Again, U2 and One... a double dose this time:
Well, did I ask too much, more than a lot?
You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got
We’re one, but we’re not the same
See we hurt each other, then we do it again
You say love is a temple, love is a higher law
Love is a temple, love is a higher law
You ask me of me to enter,
but then you make me crawl
And I can’t keep holding on to what you got,
‘cause all you got is hurt
“Love!  It’s what I give,” they say, yet it’s anything of the sort.  The heights and depths of hypocrisy and dread, hurtful irony, lunacy if by some other name.
I recall times in some of my relationships where, no matter what we did, we just couldn’t ‘do life’ as it was anymore.  Something had to shift for life to be bred into one or the both of us.  One or the both of us had to choose for life and breath and hope and peace.  One of us wanted it so bad, the other felt so threatened by it.
The presence of hurt in ourselves or another is the caustic feature of death, where all spiritual sight disappears into the ether.  The truth is we all experience hardness of heart to the point where we cannot see hope and we cannot be hope for another.  That, or our hurt is buried deep in hapless trauma.
The only way through, therefore, is to reconnect with love, which is acceptance and surrender and forgiveness and hope in the joy of letting go of control.
It is lastly trust, one and the same, within the goodness of God that carries us to a place of abundance, especially when we leave all our dreams, hopes, plans and desires to our trustworthy Lord — fully expectant that God delivers... because that is God’s nature.
We agree therefore with the eternal truth.  God blesses the hope expectant in pregnant faith, for gestation surely runs its course unto birth, much favour and life forevermore.
If a relationship is to live, both must want it more than what it will personally cost, giving love sacrificially, without insisting it of the other.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Hashtag ‘I was blamed’ is trending

There is a new hashtag trending on Twitter — #iwasblamed.  It is was started by Dr Jessica Taylor of the UK who, over the past over ten years, has written a book which has only just now released called, “Why Women Are Blamed for Everything.”
The sincere wish of Dr Taylor is that women and girls would have the public square to discuss their experiences of having been victim-blamed.
Here are just some of a selection of tweets:
A Catholic Bishop told a woman to “be careful about making accusations that could ruin a man’s life.”  That’s something any of us can imagine hearing.  And imagine if you’d been raped by such a man.  At 13.  Imagine only uttering it eight years later.  And to someone who should be an advocate against sexual violence; a priest!
In another account, a 14-year-old girl was harangued by the media for ‘ditching’ her abuser who suicided.  He was 22.  And she was quoted as his “girlfriend” in the subheading.
Another woman said, “My abuser tried to kill me and then shot himself.  He was called lovesick and I was the heartbreaker.”
Another said, “The criminal trial #iwasblamed for freezing when I was raped.  In the civil case #iwasblamed for drinking too much.”
All these above are not hard to fathom.  We know they occur.  But what about this: “#iwasblamed and gaslighted by my ex boyfriend when I was groped on the tube.  Despite that my family still loved him [I have heard this sort of thing so often!]. He said: “You sure you weren’t imagining it,” “You think all men are evil,” and “You tar all men with the same brush.”  In my relating with normal life, let alone counselling, I’ve heard and I’ve seen these things happen so often to women.
Other quotes include:
#iwasblamed for not tidying the house well enough” (complete with photo with black eye)
“Shouldn’t have got so drunk that you feel asleep in his bed.”
“Why did you stay at the same house if you didn’t have full intention of sleeping with him?”
“Must be lying because you didn’t report it.”
“You should have tried harder to stop him.”
“My ex-partner broke into my house and assaulted me.  Social services suggested I ‘try not to argue with him in future’ if I didn’t want it to happen again.  We hadn’t argued.”
“#iwasblamed when a guy broke into my house and threatened me with a knife.  My boyfriend said he saw him run away and thought I knew him and was cheating on him.  Police believed him and blamed me saying I was lying to cover being caught out.  A year later the same man broke in again and raped me.”
The list goes on, of course.
I have deliberately left some of the more hard-core tweets off here out of respect for all women and people who could be triggered, especially around accounts involving PornHub.
These are all just a sample.  Please support all people who have a claim of violence done against them, especially women.
Having grown up as a boy and having become a man, now with over 30 years as an adult, I can tell you from personal experience, I’ve heard victim-blaming of women (not to mention the sexual innuendos and other harassments) routinely.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Interlinkages within trauma, addiction and narcissism

This article is a difficult one to write, because those who have most abuse and trauma in their background, those who haven’t yet managed to find healing in their lives, may end up having some of the biggest issues with addiction, and may behave narcissistically.
Big disclaimer: I know many advocates that may have a problem with what I’ve just said, and most people who have dealt with abuse have been abused by narcissists.  It doesn’t mean they are or have become narcissistic.  It’s just that trauma tends to create addiction issues and narcissistic behaviour can be a result.
I don’t want to call those who have been traumatised, narcissists.  I don’t want to say that trauma generates addiction issues. But what I can say is the trauma complicates life to such a degree that there are often issues of addiction, and narcissistic qualities do unfortunately tend to go with the whole gamut of that.
There are of course what I would call pattern narcissists, who don’t manifest many or any of the features of typical trauma, in that they seem perfectly within control of themselves, and I suppose it’s the sociopaths and psychopaths who are most notable in this corner.
Of course, trauma has played a part in the development of these, but these types may not typically be known by their addictive qualities.  They are calculating individuals with a very great deal of self-control in many cases.  If they are angry it is because they choose to be angry.
The ones we are interested in here, however, don’t feature that kind of self-control.
This article is most interested in the interlinkage between the three facets: trauma, addiction, and narcissism, i.e. where they interlink.
For me, narcissism is always about the three Es: a lack of (or zero) empathy, the propensity to exploit, and the felt entitlement to do just that.
For my way of thinking, if a person has trauma in their background and they have addiction issues, whilst they might behave narcissistically, I wouldn’t necessarily call them narcissists.
They typically have some range for empathy, and many actually have a lot of empathy, and may be more sensitive than most, which of course has predisposed them to greater negative affect to trauma in the first place.
Those who bear a history of trauma and use their addictions as a way of coping through their life don’t generally exploit people and situations because they feel they have a right to do so; it’s more out of the necessity to get their ‘fix’ or arrange their life in such a way that bad does not become worse.
But, of course, there are those that break this rule.  Those who more easily intentionally exploit people and situations, I’m afraid, are narcissists.
If a person feels that they have little control over the way they do their violence, whilst their anger is a massive issue, and does need to be addressed, and you do need to be safe, there may not be such entitlement in them that they feel they can abuse you and get away with it.
Having said this, there is also a colossal issue in the inability of narcissists in general to take responsibility, as they blame others, and engage in gaslighting.
Those who behave narcissistically, but aren’t actually narcissists, can be reached, but it really is up to the individual in terms of whether they can change or not.
Those who can change tend to do so because they have the capacity to be honest.
Only through ruthless honesty is there any hope to wrest the addiction away from the addict in order that they may begin to work through their trauma.
If a person seeks to change, it is good to support them in that change.  I know personally, and have seen it occur a great deal in others’ lives, that that support can be and often is a game changer.

Photo by Jeremy Vessey on Unsplash

Friday, April 24, 2020

When COVID-19 grief complicates already complicated grief

Most profound grief is complicated, involving layer upon layer, truth upon truth, grief upon grief, and without doubt ambiguous loss is very common.  If you’ve loved and you’ve lost, and particularly where trauma was part of the process, as it so often is, you may well be struggling more than you thought you would be right now.
When I talk about ambiguous loss, I think of loss that has not had any sense of finalization about it, or where there was finalization it either took a long time or that finalization wasn’t complete.
Ambiguous loss is loss we experience without the full measure of reality, and though that might seem a better deal than concrete loss, it is actually much harder, because you don’t know where to ground your reality.
Initially, when COVID-19 started, I tended to imagine that those who had experienced sharp and deep grief would be better prepared for the losses that were to come.  Whilst I think it is not untrue, I have come to realise that the positions of those who have grieved are far more complicated than that.
Initially, someone who had an anxiety disorder may have felt a little more normal in a society experiencing much anxiety.  Certainly, that was what I was hearing.
But somehow the present realities, no doubt they are hard on everyone, seem possibly hardest on those who are presently on the grief spectrum, and those who have experienced the complicated grief of ambiguous loss have been affected too.
COVID-19 has more of a mark of ambiguous loss about it than just about anything so common in its nature.  Just another way it is unprecedented.  This is why those who have experienced complicated grief will find COVID-19 such an enormous challenge.
It’s because it brings back very dark memories that seem to have been etched into the fabric of a person’s soul.  What seems least fair of all has cruelly become a reality for so many people.
·      If you have a parent or a grandparent in care and they are dementia patients, and you cannot visit them, there are all sorts of dilemmas presently being experienced — on top of a situation that spelled d-i-l-e-m-m-a.  Simply acknowledge how tough this is on yourself and others.  It doesn’t make the situation easier though.
·      If you have children who are possible prodigals in the future, perhaps with drug problems, and you don’t know where they are, that stirs up a whole lot more confusion than before.  As you have been doing, continue to give them over to God’s care.
·      If you are presently estranged from the partner you love, and though you hold out to hope even if there is no hope, you may despair more than ever right now.  Keep trying to grow in faith during an impossibly painful time.  I can tell you, your faith will grow.
·      If mental illness has ravaged us or a loved one, and this present season of COVID-19 has messed it all up even more, the possibilities ahead will be frightening.  There is no point in denying it, so please seek the peace of support.  New opportunities of support may be just on the horizon.
·      If we don’t know if we will see our elderly parents or grandparents ever again, worried that they will get COVID-19, that sort of ambiguous loss is enormous.  Be more prayerful than ever.
·      If you’ve lost your job and have little or no hope of finding further employment, and for a whole range of reasons the future looks dim, this sort of ambiguous loss can create the instant hunger of panic.  More than ever, believe you’ll have food on the table and a roof over your head, and know that faith will get you through.  Remain committed to being healthy as ever and prepared for the opportunity when it comes.
·      If you were in the opposite situation, and you’re feeling burned out, underappreciated, and even at risk, acknowledge the complicated grief involved in your work situation.  If you can, as a distraction to your busy life, plan a little joy for the future.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Better boundaries than ever in COVID-19 and beyond

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “Let’s not go back to normal once coronavirus is gone.”  So I sense there is an opportunity in these times to move beyond the experiences that have so shackled us.
First of all, we must acknowledge how bad things got.  There are some who will read this who may not have felt much acknowledgement before.  They have been mistreated when they were people who could do nothing but respect others.  They were told things they should not have heard, and they saw things they should not have witnessed.
They were abused and traumatised because others had little or no regard for the boundaries that should’ve been respected in the first place.
If there is to be an article for all comers in terms of intimate relationships, it needs to cater for the married AND the divorced, because the divorced are just as fettered to the breaking of boundaries as they have ever been, and boundaries are the ongoing conquest of the married.
This is what the peacemaker in me says.  The following two statements may seem contradictory, but they work in tandem.
People must respect us because if they don’t and they get away with it we don’t love them.  This gives us permission to challenge people, not just because we have the right to challenge them when they disrespect us, but also, it’s because we believe in their capacity to love and change.
To believe someone can change, that they have the capacity to love us, calls us to a higher belief in what God can do, and it also puts the onus on them, because if they cannot do what we believe they can do, it’s no longer our problem.  It’s no longer about us if they’re narcissistic and seemingly beyond help.  We’re called to believe anyone can love us, until we see evidence that they can’t or won’t.
This leads us to the second statement:
Some people will refuse to honour our boundaries, and if they insist on continuing in this vein, we will need to change the nature of the relationship.  We are left no choice when people won’t respect our boundaries and engage in inappropriate behaviour and abuse that leads to trauma, but to change the play book in response.  This shows them that they are in control.  This demonstrates that their behaviour has cause and effect.  This reveals the power they have to control their own destiny as far as it comes to us.  We are being kind and considerate to do this.  And yet, just as much as they’re in control of their behaviour and respect or disrespect of us, we too are in control.  We mete out the consequences.
In the first statement there is a commitment to love that knows no bounds and that honours the truth.  In the second statement, there is such an honouring of the truth that we allow the truth to dictate the terms.  We worship God in spirit and in truth.  Our role is to abide in the truth.  And honouring the truth will set us free.
Boundaries don’t need to be about the breaking of the relationship, if only we won’t be goaded.  But if we are continually goaded the rules need to change.  And any of us can do this, but where we feel we can’t, that is the biggest red flag.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash