Series Originally Appearing at UnderMuchGrace.com in January 2012
(Click on Subtitles to link to original posts.)
Though every person becomes vulnerable to spiritual abuse and mind control if the conditions favor it, many who fall into spiritually abusive systems struggle with problems left over from the wounds of childhood, and thus, they may find the material in this post also relevant and helpful. This synopsis addresses the implications for adults resulting from deficits in emotional development during childhood which often give spiritual abusers more leverage which they use against their followers. To fully address this aspect of this element of spiritual abuse experienced by some, one must understand the the nature of the dynamics and how they developed. Also called “family dysfunction,” this pattern of unhealthy behavior and relating to family members has been effectively institutionalized as God's ideal for families by the aberrant patriarchy movement within homeschooling (the primary focus of the blog, Overcoming Botkin Syndrome).
The material here was specifically developed to address the functional problems and emotional developmental needs of the young women who endured abject abuse and torture at Hephzibah House, a private boarding home for troubled girls run by an Independent Fundamentalist Church, so it appears here as a particular focus. (Learn more about Hephzibah House HERE.)
Section I: Introduction
- Misunderstanding and Intolerance of the the Characteristics of Children
- Introduction to the Five Characteristics of Children
Section II: Five Characteristics and Needs of Children
- Value (Self love and self-esteem)
- Vulnerability (Poor regard for personal boundaries)
- Dependency (Ignorance, abuse and degrees of neglect)
- Immaturity (Parental intolerance
Section III: Victims of Circumstance
(Fostering an External Locus Of Control)
- Shame-Based Parenting
- Enmeshed Parenting
- The Problem of Looking Outside of the Self to find Worth and Peace
Section IV: Recovery and Healing
- Relevance of the Topic to Spiritual Abuse Recovery
- Finding Healing Through the Twelve Steps: Recovery from the Emotional Wounds of Childhood (and from Spiritual Abuse)Journey Out of Shame: Books, audio, video, and online help
- Finding a Counselor to Help Specifically with Dysfunctional Family Issues
A few days ago, I pointed out that the girls who survived incarceration at Hephzibah House (HH) suffered both trauma/torture and spiritual abuse, and upon leaving, they struggle with unique problems including trauma reenactment, revictimization, and an inability to self-protect. Though some of this relates directly to the debilitation of the self created by the harsh conditions at HH, the roots of these related deficits are created in childhood. Many other fundamentalist and cultic evangelical groups share ideologies that predispose children to these common patterns of dysfunction. I believe that to fully understand the nature of problems such as problems with self protection, one must understand the root causes.
The Nature and Character of Children
To raise a child well, it gives to reason that a person should have a good understanding of the capabilities of children in order for parents to set reasonable expectations for children in terms of their behavior and their anticipated understanding. Many of the common problems seen in spiritually abusive religious groups begin with a misunderstanding of the capabilities (and needs) of children, and the misconceptions eventually produce patterns of dysfunctional thought and behavior in adults within the system.
Expectations of Parents
These considerations are all quite philosophical, and they aren't of primary importance to parents while they are overwhelmed with the management of the practical needs of the newborn or the tiring busyness of a rambunctious two year old. Just the “battle fatigue” of raising young children alone can frustrate parents, and this might lead them to feel frustrated by that endless energy and that adaptability of children, too. A parent may not stop to consider that the child needs that energy and that ability to bounce from experience to experience in their self-centered ways in order to grow effectively into adulthood.
In that respect, the child's self-centered nature, their busy energy, and their resilience are the vital and necessary gifts that they are given to accomplish the monumental task of growing up. But consider that the parent who punishes a child for these traits or abuses their child for having these traits depletes these needed gifts and energy, stealing them from the child. The child pays the price for this diversion of their resources, and as adults, it is up to them to go back to master the development that they may not have achieved.
Common Misconceptions About the Immaturity of Children
One pitfall that often takes place within Christian fundamentalism is the punishment of the child's self-centered nature. There is a time and a purpose for everything under heaven, including this aspect of a child, but an inexperienced or a demanding parent (who may be uncomfortable with balancing their own wants and needs) may expect too much Christian oriented self-sacrifice from a child too soon. A parent may also expect the young child to have few needs – and young children are especially needy! The parent with unrealistic expectations may teach a young child at an early age that they should have no needs at all, God-given or otherwise. They may also teach the child to feel guilty if they ridicule or criticize the chld for having needs or if the parent complains about having to statisfy both wants and needs. The parent may misinterpret the child's need as greed, failing to see the balance and the difference between needs and wants, misinterpreting both as sinful indulgence.
One of the developmental tasks of the self-centered child includes the development of healthy self-esteem which begins with the child's learning to love themselves. Jesus implies that this is essential to properly relating to others and includes appropriate self-love as part of the two greatest commandments which encompass the Law and the Prophets. However, many Christians fail to take this self-love into consideration and interpret it as conceit.
Some misinterpret Paul's admonishment to “esteem others better through lowliness of mind” as a cause to have less than appropriate or low esteem for oneself. “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister” can also be misconstrued into feelings of shame during seasons of need. Bill Gothard extends this idea which confuses humility and shame, teaching that all should should actively submit to all suffering without protest to develop humility. He takes the principle of generosity and compassion too far out of balance, claiming that God requires His followers to relinquish all personal rights of justice by denying the appropriate balance of forgiving tolerance between mercy and justice. This promotes the development of a lack of respect for the self and results in a disrespect for the image of God in the person.
Ultimately, problems of this type stem back to the parent's lack of proper esteem for others, and among those others for parents come their children. They may believe that children should serve their parents as opposed to serving God by raising them, being good stewards of the precious people God has placed in their care.
And ultimately, the child learns balance from the parent through all of these things which require the parent to exercise self-control. If the parent has difficulty understanding the difference between needs and wants because of their own maturity issues, they cannot give to their children what they lack themselves. The parent may understand that they have no rights or may be made to feel guilty for their own God-given needs, so they lack the perspective of balance and cannot pass that on to their children. They may suffer from a “shame-existence bind” themselves, believe that they shouldn't have needs, while knowing that they cannot endure life without help from others. Human beings require a healthy level of interpersonal dependence, because we cannot meet all of our needs by ourselves. We are interdependent creatures, but if the parent lacks this understanding or has learned shame regarding their own needs, how can they pass that on to their child?
And the parent may also have unreasonable expectations that the Christian life and parenting as an experience that is largely free of tension or pain. Balance is not a state of floating bliss. Balance is the artful skill and dynamic process of managing two competing forces at the same time. That requires effort, and sometimes it is nothing short of very hard work. The child also learns this from the parent, and as an adult, that child may gravitate towards extremes because this their parent taught them through their own example. They may see frustration as sinful and may be uncomfortable sitting with their frustrations and the internal discomfort that maturity requires. If their parent lacked frustration tolerance, it is likely that they required their children to pay the bill for their own needs. We see this pattern in the behavior of men like Voddie Baucham and Michael Pearl who tolerate no repeated error in their children, asking of them more than God asks of adults. Child of such families grow up and very likely pass this along to their own children by being intolerant of their immaturity.
At the heart of love is respect, and at the heart of respect is balance (self-control), the willingness and ability to tolerate frustration. Either due to lack of maturity or due to aberrant religious ideas that result from poor interpretations of Scripture, some Christians understand their faith in terms of being unbalanced, unable or tolerate diversity. If the parent lacks balance, then their sense of respect for themselves and others suffers, and respect of a person's personhood is the minimum requirement of real and healthy love. Quite often, the parent with lack of balance, respect, and love translates those issues into unreasonable expectations for their children, and they pass their discomfort and frustration on to them. The child then pays the price for the parent's lack of maturity and mastery of the tasks of adulthood.
Understanding How Dysfunctional Families Prime Children for the Experience of Shame (Leading to Victimization)
There are many excellent Christian books concerning dysfunctional family dynamics -- that is besides the Book of Genesis which contains the best archetypal examples of how you should NOT relate to other family members! One of the most interesting families to draw out on a relationship diagram is that of Jacob, Esau and their parents, and some of the Christian self-help books in this genre look at many of the Old Testament patriarchs to explain how triangulation in relationships works.
My favorites include titles on the topic of family relationships include Love is a Choice (by Hemfelt, Minerth, and Meier) and Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves (Stoop and Masteller) and many others which are discussed at some length on the OvercomingBotkin Syndrome blog (posts which you can find by looking for the author near the top of the tag list). I also like Sandra Wilson's Hurt People Hurt People, too. And specifically related to boundaries, the Christian books by Townsend and Cloud shouldn't go without mention, either.
These posts offer learning tools to the survivors of Hephzibah House (HH), though they are quite applicable to most people in the types of religious groups addressed here most often. With the Hephzibah Girls in mind, I think that the approach taken by a fellow nurse speaks a bit more clearly to the specific needs that they have as they look back to put their experiences into perspective. Conditions at HH fostered problems with self-protection and issues related to boundaries suffered by girls after leaving, but the roots go deeper, back into childhood.
Understanding the Roots of Shame
Pia Mellody approaches this topic by looking at the five basic, natural characteristics of childhood, which when successfully developed and honored by the parent, form the basis for healthy and mature characteristics in adulthood.
- Valuable (Value becomes peace and what Jesus called the love of self in the mature adult who finds their stability and worth within themselves instead of finding their worth in performance and circumstances.)
- Vulnerable (Forms the basis of experience which allows adults to be intimate along with the appropriate level of vulnerability required to engage in emotional intimacy.)
- Imperfect (Lays the foundation of the adult's ability to feel comfortable with themselves and accountable for the impact that their actions have on others.)
- Dependent (Provides for the ability of the adult to care responsibly for their own basic needs and to be interdependent with others, because we are unable to meet all of our needs independently.)
- Immature (Proper care and parenting teaches two types of boundaries to the child: internal self control which governs the adult's behavior, as well as what one chooses to allow into their lives. Mastery of maturity also provides for a healthy sense of spontaneity.)
As previously mentioned, if the parent has not mastered these tasks or if their parents didn't honor and respect these characteristics in them when they were children, they very likely have gaps in their own development which the pass along to their children. Teaching a child to be vulnerable involves modeling accountability and honesty as well as the sharing of power. (This is a major issue in patriarchy, both for men and for women.)
If the parent doesn't esteem their child as a valuable person who just happens to be little and in need of care their respect as well as their care, they will grow up with deficits in their development which are passed on to their children. Unfortunately, there are many Christian traditions that misinterpret Scripture and fail in some of these tasks in particular. Piety fosters perfectionism and hyper-authoritarianism fosters shame and lack of self care that honors the Image of God in us. Systems like those advocated by the Botkin Family and Vision Forum create life-long dependency problems based on gender hierarchy. Many of the teachings embraced within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches place a similar emphasis on sexuality which, for the survivors of Hephzibah House, creates the justification for their abuse.
Pia Mellody in Facing Codependence (pp 78 - 80):
In addition to misdirecting these three characteristics, dysfunctional caregivers do not respond appropriately to children's five natural attributes of value, vulnerability, imperfection, dependency, and immaturity. Instead these caregivers either ignore or attack children for the very essence of who they are, creating an intense experience of shame in the children. Inordinate shaming happens to children when they lose contact with the sense that they are adequate and have value from within, even when making mistakes, having needs or being immature. . . .
Children are naturally innocent, inexperienced, naïve and believe that their caregiver can do no wrong. But in fact, caregivers often attack or abuse children for having the normal traits of imperfection, dependency and immaturity. As a result, the children lose their own sense of value (since they can't see that the fault might lie with the caregivers). Also the fact that abuse is occurring means the parents aren't demonstrating boundaries, so the children don't develop their own boundary systems properly.
When the caregivers ignore or attack children's natural characteristics, children develop dysfunctional survival traits to keep from feeling crazy and yet still maintain the belief that the caregivers are always right.
From Pia Mellody's
What It Is, Where It Comes From,
How It Sabotages Our Lives
Harper One/Harper Collins, NY (1989; 2003)
THE FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHILDREN
(And DEFICITS in the development of those characteristics, leading to victimization)
Failing to Teach A Child Appropriate Self Love and Value
As noted in the previous post, children the characteristics of children, when respected and anticipated by the parent help to form the basis of appropriate core behaviors in adulthood. What is perhaps the most primary of these is the development of appropriate self-love, addressed briefly in an earlier post.
When a child learns that they have precious value and the trait is honored by the parent, the child matures into an adult who can find stability and worth in themselves instead of either earning worth through outward performance (What happens when you can't perform?) or only when circumstances in life are very good.
Most people tend to think of a person with poor self esteem and self love as a collapsed individual, but as we explore these traits, we will note that imbalance of either introversion or extraversion results from poor development of appropriate self-love. Remember the issue of balance and the needed maturity of the parent to hold two opposing forces in tension, exhibiting self-control and modulating experience? We used the example of the extremes on a continuum ranging from greedy over-indulgence and self-neglect. Both of these extremes constitute a show of disrespect for the person and for others. The ideal is not one extreme or the other but rather that “sweet spot” of balance between the two, where a person cares for themselves appropriately but also responds dynamically to the needs of others with empathy, caring and respect. The place of balance is one of movement and is not static, so there is a bit of swing, but it is within a certain limit, not too far from midline.
The Two Extremes of Self Love and Value
Parents teach their children about their own personal worth based on how the parent models respect for other adults but also how the parent treats the child or children. When a parent lacks appropriate respect for the value of their children, they can choose one of two alternatives:
- They can devalue their children. They can neglect the child's needs and despise their nature. They may put their own wants before the child's basic needs, teaching the child that they have very little value as people.
- Though it may seem counterintuitive, when a parent idealizes a child and behaves as though that child can do no wrong by idealizing them, exaggerating accomplishments and paying excessive amounts of attention to the child, it is also a type of abuse.
In both cases, the child is objectified because neither level of esteem is consistent with reality. One is collapsed and the other exaggerated. Somewhere in the middle is the child in real life – precious for being a wonderful human creature, complete with realistic flaws and imperfections. So though the child who is idealized may seem to be free from abuse, the abuse comes through the demand of the parent that the child be something other than who they are. Both are fantasy based ideas, but the child's true nature is rejected.
Two Outcomes of Poorly Communicated Value
Just as the parent either undervalued or idealized the child, the child can manifest their poor sense of self and lack of worth in two primary ways. First, the child who is treated as though they have little value will become a people pleaser, because they find their worth outside of themselves. They only feel good when they have earned love or affection or esteem. It cannot be given to them merely because they are creatures worthy of respect.
The child may also develop exaggerated ways of expressing their low sense of internal self worth by becoming manipulative and arrogant. They feel entitled to praise and value, beyond reasonable worth, giving them the sense that they are indeed better than everyone else on the planet. So this, too, is another kind of low esteem, but the extraverted need communicates as arrogance and deceit. These adults tend to gauge themselves and their worth from their successes and through condescension.
Both outcomes manifest as ways to cope with the lack of healthy esteem. The parent lacked adequate maturity and resources to be able to teach the child appropriate worth, and the child obtains their worth based on the parent's unbalanced perception of them.
Priming a Child for Victimization or Predatory Behavior Through Poor Regard for Developing Personal Boundaries and Vulnerability
Human beings are not omnipotent creatures, and children are definitely not invulnerable. When properly honored and taught to the child, appropriate vulnerability teaches and prepares the child to be appropriately intimate in relationships in their adult life. To achieve emotional intimacy in a healthy way, a person must be emotionally honest with their close friends and in love relationships through limited vulnerability which allows them to connect to others.
An excellent resource concerning Boundaries is the Christian book of that title by Townsend and Cloud whose topical video clips are featured HERE online.
The Extremes Created by a Poor Sense of Vulnerability
As we will note in all of the characteristics of children that parents must honor, in dysfunctional homes, children tend to develop the same kinds of boundaries both modeled and taught directly to children by parents. Problems tend to develop when children fall to one extreme reaction or the other, or an ineffective mix between the two, wherein the child learns only partially effective boundaries. As one only protects what is worthwhile protecting, boundaries can be closely tied to self-worth.
The child who learns ineffective boundaries becomes too vulnerable because the parent fails to teach the child self protection. The parent may overprotect this child, objectifying them by viewing them as incapable of any discernment of their own, or they just fail to protect them altogether. The child never learns where they begin and end, and they walk into dangerous situations with no awareness of the threat of harm. Some children are taught to place implicit trust in any adult and authority figures, and in religious groups that follow patriarchy, girls are taught to obey all men without qualification. Likewise, some Christian groups teach that adults and children alike have no personal rights, viewing any suffering that comes because of lack of boundaries to be an opportunity to develop character through disappointment. These children learn passivity, or they follow passivity to avoid punishment by the parent who will tolerate no assertiveness.
The exaggerated alternative results in a child who does not set boundaries but establishes walls and thus avoids vulnerability by feigning invulnerability. They're too fearful to be vulnerable, and the cost of their safety comes at the forfeiting of emotional intimacy. They may start to develop friendships but will retreat in withdrawal.
Internal Versus External Boundaries
- An internal boundary involves behavior and thought originating with the self, that which refers to what that person does. Of people who have poor internal boundaries and set no limits on their own behavior, it may be said of them that such a person "knows no bounds." The primary problem originates with them as a lack of their own internal boundaries.
A child with a collapsed sense of self may have been conditioned to set very narrow limits on their own behavior in a way that is inappropriate, allowing others too far in to their inner world, if they have any internal boundaries at all. When any child has not been trained to respect others or basic rules of appropriate social behavior, they may violate the boundaries of others without realizing it, merely out of ignorance. Their self-centered perspective may be the only indicator of appropriate behavior because they have not been taught to anticipate or be sensitive to the needs of others.
In the child who demonstrates too much invulnerability, they will either withdrawal from interaction all together (their created internal boundary) through antisocial personality traits, or they may exaggerate their behavior, willfully ignoring the boundaries of others by in order to feel powerful. They claim everything (including other people) as within their own boundaries by setting no boundaries on their own behavior.
- An external boundary is a barrier that a person creates around themselves to limit outside forces. An external boundary involves what the a allows into their world and involves saying “No.” (LINK HERE to another Boundaries video about what the Bible says about saying "No.")
In the collapsed response, the child lets anyone and everyone take advantage of them. In the invulnerable, the child does not allow anyone to get close enough to take advantage of them, and they may be well-known for always saying “No.” Another way an external boundary can be violated presents when adults do not permit the child to own their own perceptions and experiences. If a parent does not like a particular emotion, they may punish a child for it, teaching the child that they cannot know themselves or their experience. The child is required to allow that parent in through their external boundary, exchanging their reality for that of the parent.
Vunerability Issues in Adults
In a healthy adult relationships, boundaries establish what we will and will not tolerate. For adults who grew up in very dysfunctional homes and didn't learn appropriate boundaries, this dynamic element of hard work within a relationship fails.
Those who are too vulnerable fail to establish any kind of boundary, and they let anyone have access to any area of their lives. Or they may have a difficult time establishing boundaries through assertive expression of their wants and needs, the type of person who struggles with saying “No.” Sometimes, these individuals can declare boundaries to others, but cannot motivate themselves to defend their established new boundaries. These are not boundaries at all but are merely “nice ideas” when they are not defended.
The person with very weak or non-existent boundaries may also seek to have levels of intimacy that are too close for the nature of the relationship, and this may create behavioral problems and may violate appropriate social rules. It also sets the adult up for disappointment through unmet expectations and confusion.
Some individuals may also have only partially ineffective boundaries, and in one area of life, they may be able to clearly establish what they will and will not tolerate in a relationship. But when dealing with a certain situation or a particular type of person (such as a woman raised in an extremely patriarchal system of gender hierarchy, she may find herself completely unable to establish a boundary or may have been taught that a woman must submit to the demands of men. Authority figures also pose great difficulty for the person who tends toward collapsed responses because it is human nature to tend to comply with authority.
As noted earlier, the invulnerable type of person tends to withdrawal from social interaction and may cope through an anti-social personalty. They may have erratic relationships, vacillating between the development of friendship, only to abruptly retreat in response to perceived threat. They have the opposite type of presentation concerning their problems with intimacy, but both types of manifestations prevent healthy intimacy.
The invulnerable person can also develop ineffective coping mechanisms leading to the abuse and exploitation of others by violating their boundaries through an exaggerated response, motivated by manipulative behaviors and poorly controlled negative emotion, the extroverted expression of lack of respect. These are the classic abused people who go on to repeat the same type of abuse as their abuser modeled for them.
One might think that the person with excessively collapsed boundaries is more vulnerable to manipulation, but because the invulnerable type of person who hides behind walls craves intimacy and attachment, this basic human need can also be exploited, making this person just as vulnerable to the right influences.
Self Awareness and Self Regulation
Because their boundaries were never respected or because the parent fails to realize that the child is not an adult with the capability of setting limits, the adult who uses their child as a companion or requires the child to be someone that they're not overrides that child's sense of self. The interaction is too intimate and interferes with the child's development of a sense of self.
The child has no choice and does not even realize that the relationship is emotionally inappropriate or damaging to them. (An adult can set limits and protect their sense of self when overwhelmed by another, but the child is obligated to absorb the parent's reality because of their dependence on the adult to protect and provide for them.)
Instead of awareness of self, the child's inner world must be negated (their heart denied) in favor of the adult's experience, wants, and needs.
These adults struggle with finding satisfying vocations, pastimes and relationships because they are unaware of their feelings and emotions and do not have much awareness of their true strengths and weaknesses. They were not encouraged to make their own decisions regarding their life choices and were required to sign the right to direct their lives over to someone else or some religious system. When they work on recovery, learning self awareness and experiencing the liberty of choice can be a very difficult, anxiety-producing challenge.
Erratic patterns in relationships are common in people who suffer from complex PTSD, both craving attachment and fearing it and feeling unable to modulate their own behavior. So in the person with patterns built around long-standing trauma, they may have a very complex mix of incomplete boundaries, varying from the extremes of walls to the enmeshed type of unhealthy attachment found in the person with little to no boundaries at all.
Human beings make mistakes, and it is unreasonable and unhealthy for people to believe that they are perfect. By embracing and anticipating the needs of children related to their characteristic of imperfection, parents can raise children who become adults who not only feel comfortable with themselves, but they learn to become accountable for the impact that their actions have on other people.
Consequences of Expecting and Demanding Perfection of Children
This type of abuse of the child's quality of imperfection can be communicated to the child through demands requiring too high of a level of mastery for the child's developmental age or merely by the intolerance of any of the child's mistakes. This often comes about because of shame issues in the adult's past, and when the child's behavior triggers their own shame, they are unable to modulate and control their own emotions. The parent may view mistakes as failure instead of an essential part of learning through trial and error. The child's normal mistake may trigger shame in the parent because of the parent's unresolved fears and emotions that have nothing to do with the child or the matter at hand.
In an effort to control the environment and to derive their own sense of calm and control from outside themselves, these parents who feel shame unload their shame onto their own children because they feel so overwhelmed themselves. They use their children as a receptacle for their shame, and demand a higher level of control from their child than they are capable of (which the adult acts out through demands of perfection!). The child must then pay the bill for the parent's lack of tolerance, toxic negative emotion, and shame which is projected on to the child.
Some parents may also lack understanding of how children develop and may expect behaviors of children that are not age appropriate, Children who are incapable of performing will be punished in some way for their incompetency. With children who are precocious and intelligent, the parent may also take for granted that the child may mimic behavior, follow learned ritual, or parrot back information, but they will be incapable of abstract reason until around or about age twelve. Even in the healthiest of homes, as a very intelligent and competent child begins to start to have flashes of reason, it is hard to anticipate the child's real capabilities and develop realistic expectations when they approach this point in their development. The appearance of these age appropriate developmental lacks can be confusing, however, the healthy parent doesn't punish the child or see this as a deficiency.
Religious Factors Contributing to Lack of Respect for the Child's Imperfection
From Pia Mellody's Facing Codependence (pg 194):
When children live in families that expect perfection, they learn to lie (to avoid the pain and shame of frequent failure) or to repress the fact that they are imperfect. And this means these children can't be accountable and spiritual as adults, since they cannot tolerate seeing the mistakes and sabotaging behavior in their own lives.
Because personal worth and peace tends to be drawn from outside the self and derives from circumstances and performance, legalistic Christians tend to do a great deal of benchmarking, comparing themselves with others. They look down on others and moralize (or demoralize) them in order to create the illusion that they are better by comparison. Spiritual superiority such as the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Doctrine of Separation fosters allows this person to play God. They become their own higher power, not God, through human effort and through the illusion of denial and other primitive types of defense mechanisms. Quite often, in adults who grew up as children in these types of families, because of the hypocrisy and inconsistencies, they tend to either doubt that a real God or higher power exists, or they deem Him as untrustworthy.
Manifestations of Perfectionism in Dysfunctional Homes: Family Roles
This type of disrespect or rejection of the child's imperfect nature can result in a variety of problems in both child and adult. How the individual as child or adult manifests this imperfection depends on the type of family role they are expected to perform within the family. Typical dysfunctional family roles for individuals include:
- Surrogate (parent or partner
- Rebel or “black sheep”
- Lost Child
Generally, the way each person copes with the demand for perfection depends upon the role that the person plays within the family. The hero character, often the firstborn, will become a perfectionistic, uptight, overachiever who chases the fantasy created by the family that they are type of hero. It is part of the fantasy and the family script that is typical of families of dysfunction or addiction, and family members are required to lavish praise and attention on the identified hero. This goes beyond the typical patterns associated with birth order and falls into a true fantasy which the family system demands that all members support in order to maintain the illusion of wholeness, ultimately a pattern that is self-destructive. The other positive family roles (mascot, mediator, counselor, and surrogate) tend to follow with this same type of ultra-compliant perfectionism to merit love and attention from the parents, the positive reinforcement that they receive for their compliance and good performance.
Those who take on the negative roles in dysfunctional families generally respond in different ways. Those who feel overwhelmed, hapless, and hopeless in response to the high demands for perfectionism tend to give up and take on antagonistic behaviors. The rebel acts out their frustration through rebellion, obviously, as does the black sheep, by doing the opposite of what the family generally demands. In very controlling families, this behavior is often quite passive aggressive. The black sheep as well as the scapegoat (chronically blamed for the problems within the family system) often also respond by acting irresponsibly, becoming the prodigal. Though the lost child (a negative role) tends to develop in homes where they were neglected, they can develop patterns of OCD or adopt irresponsible patterns of behavior.
Because of the intense demand for perfection and performance to compensate for shame, family members all suffer with pain, fear, and anxiety, often turing to substance abuse or addictive behaviors.
From Nancy Curtis in Beyond Survival: The New Testament Solution for Adult Children of Alcoholics (pg 53):
As children, we tend to mold our personalities to adapt to our environment. If our environment is supportive, nurturing, and flexible, we are freed to express our own individuality. If our environment is rigid, demanding, and conditional, however, we are forced to shape our behavior to fit the needs of others. We substitute our true self for a false self that is more acceptable to our parents whose love and approval we need desperately. In essence, we compromise who we really are, and become what our parents need us to be.
How Parents Prime Children for Victimization through Ignorance, Neglect and Abuse of Dependency Needs
One of the primary roles of a parent should be preparing their children to be safe, protected, and secure in adulthood, preparation that begins in childhood, encouraging the child's growth into maturity. When successful, parents prepare children who become adults who are able to care adequately for their own basic needs and are also responsive to the needs of others without compromising their own self-care in the process. In dysfunctional homes, children derive too much of their identity and sense of self from within the family or specifically from another family member. When they enter the world of adults without having adequately shaped their identity, they have much difficulty in relationships when they move on from the family of origin.
How Parents Fail to Provide for Dependency Needs
Many types of abuse result when parents fail to respect their child's dependency needs and balance those needs with gradual preparation for their child's independence from the family. Children learn the lessons and skills of self-care in adulthood through the ways in which their parents meet (or fail to meet) their needs, as well as the habits they observe in their own parents who model their own self-care.
- Degrees of Neglect
Obviously parents who neglect their children fail to provide for their needs, be they material, psychological, intellectual, emotional or spiritual, but there are other more subtle ways in which a parent can abuse a child's dependence and limitations.
A parent may have a false idea or expectation that children should not be needy or may become frustrated with the needs that they have. They will meet the child's physical needs, but they will communicate to the child in some way that their duty to responsibly care for them is a great hardship. They may fail to keep adult matters private and may inappropriately share details about finances or other concerns with the child in a way that is appropriate and understandable. The parent may also directly or indirectly convey an attitude of resentment towards the child because of their responsibilities to provide for them. Children are very perceptive and emotionally aware in most cases because they look to the parent as a mirror for themselves so that they can learn to be like the parent as they grow. In extreme manifestations of parental resentment, the parent may become aggressive or predatory with the child, punishing them for their dependency.
When the parent communicates resentment or fails to adequately shield the child from their adult concerns involved in providing for them, the child absorbs the message as one of shame for having any needs. The literature on addictions refers to this experience as the “shame-existence bind,” a type of Pharisaical type of double bind that creates a no-win situation for the child. The child may also be told that they are selfish for having needs or that their common, basic needs are unusual or unreasonable. The parent may have their own misconceptions about their own needs and wants, viewing the care of their own basic needs as optional, or they may behave as though all of their wants are synonymous with their basic needs. They can only model for and give to the child that which they have themselves, so they may convey their own misguided feelings about guilt over needs to their children who will follow the parent's example and will tend to adopt their ways of thinking about wants and needs.
In these cases, the child not only learns shame for having basic needs, they also learn that being interdependent with others in a healthy way as they seek to meet their needs is an unsafe and painful process that also produces shame. The parent either fails to realize for themselves or fails to teach their child that individuals must be interdependent and that this interdependence is a healthy, normal, and often pleasurable part of daily life and is necessary for survival.
Though Jim Fay (co-founder of the Love and Logic Institute) identifies these traits as a part of a parenting style, they also describe a manner by which parents show disrespect to the dependency needs of a child. Fay describes this parent as one who “hovers over children and rescues them from the hostile world in which they live” in a set of predictable ways.
The Helicopter Parent [with Blog Host notes added]:
- Provides messages of weakness and low personal worth
- Makes excuses for the child, but complains about [how the child has] mishandled responsibilities [which sends a confusing and shaming mixed message to the child]
- Takes on the responsibility of the child
- Protects the child from any possible negative feelings
- Makes decisions for the child
- Provides no structure, but complains, “After all I've done for you...”
- Whines and uses guilt: “When are you ever going to learn? I always have to clean up after you.”
- Whines and complains about having an irresponsible child who causes “me” much work and responsibility
- Uses lots of words and actions that rescue or indicate that the child is not capable or responsible
- Protects child from natural consequences, uses guilt [as opposed to consequences] as the teacher
Another failure to appropriately honor the dependency needs of a child occurs when a parent uses a child in some way to meet their own adult needs, needs that are only appropriately met by another adult. In healthy parenting, nurture flows from the mature adult who is rich in resources to the child who only has the resources that the parent provides for them. The child lacks information, experience in relationships, rational thought, boundaries, and a standard of what constitutes good/appropriate behavior. The primary source of all of those things comes from the parent upon whom they depend physically for their survival. The child is not in a position to walk away from the parent and doesn't have the internal resources or experience to be able to set limits on the parent if they behave inappropriately.
In dysfunctional families, quite often, the parent has relationship difficulties with other adults, but they find in their child an attentive and wonderful little person who lacks all of the typical friction that they encounter in their interaction with adults. Their child has no boundaries and accepts whatever the parent presents to them as trustworthy and good, lacking those friction-creating factors that the parent experiences with adults. Failing to honor the dependency needs of their child, they can reverse the flow of nurture when they begin to use the child as a source of friendship or as a resource to use in order to meet their adult needs. (This differs from assigning age-appropriate duties to a child which help teach them how to appropriately care for their own needs and to function interdependently within the family.)
The child merges with the parent and becomes dependent on them for their sense of identity and worth. The child internalizes the needs and reality of the parent and identifies them as their own instead of learning and growing to develop their independent sense of self and their own, age-appropriate reality. In some respects, the child gains a sense of power and specialness, knowing that they are of such importance and are so intimate emotionally with the parent At the same time, they also realize that they have become responsible for meeting the needs and attending to the welfare of the parent, an overwhelming experience. Their inner life revolves around the parent's needs and involves a great amount of fear. Instead of developing worth and a sense of accomplishment based on their own experiences, they draw that worth and confidence from the duties that they perform for the parent.
Dependency as a Religious Concept
As mentioned in a recent post, some aberrant Christian groups which overemphasize hierarchy and authoritarianism teach that subordinates must endure any type of treatment from their superiors, and that mistreatment should not be protested but should be viewed as an experience which builds virtue. In some instances, such as in Bill Gothard's ideology of authority and submission, bearing unjust mistreatment mystically serves as an opportunity to accumulate God's favor which can be channeled to use as power to accomplish virtuous acts.
Residents at Hephzibah House are taught that their moral status which resulted in their placement at the facility deprived them of status and relegated them to obligatory abuse, a disrespect of their dependency needs as teenagers deprived them of physical sustenance and protection which was reinforced by intense physical and psycholological abuse. In many groups, Complementarian theology supports obligatory servitude based on gender, promoting enmeshment for women as a religious requirement. In Vision Forum's form of patriarchy which is also taught by the Botkin Family, the theology requires that all family members deny their independence, personal needs, and inner personal experience in favor of their family patriarch's code of conduct and “vision” for the mission of the family. All of these examples institutionalize dysfunctional behavior, misrepresenting these requirements as the minimum standard taught in the Bible and required by God, carrying eternal, spiritual consequences.
Many religious traditions also teach the need for a spiritual intercessor putting other people in between that person's access to God and spiritual things. Complementarianism and systems that define women as dependent on a male overseer suggest in various ways that women need men to make spiritual intercession for them. By teaching that a woman is of lesser essence in some way (such as Complementarian teaching that women are made indirectly in or are the derivative image of God) and that women are created solely and primarily for the purpose of ministry to men, these ideologies foster and facilitate dependency and dysfunction. In other traditions such as those followed in the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement or in systems of ecclesiocentricty (the church and pastor as the central element of and authority in a Christian's life), such systems foster dysfunctional paternalistic dependency as opposed to healthy interdependence.
Consequences and Outcomes Experienced by the Adult
For the adult who was neglected in childhood wherein the parent failed to provide for their needs, the adult carries over their childhood coping mechanism into their adult life which manifests as lack of self-care, still affected by the shame-existence bind they learned in childhood. They've learned to ignore their needs and have never learned to be aware of them which usually presents through neglect of self through poor or absent self-care in different areas of their life.
Though this individual may have a collapsed social life wherein they fail to attend to their own emotional care, they may also demonstrate a type of demonstrative craving for love and affection producing “love addiction.” Developmental deficits tend to be overcome through learning and counsel, but love addiction becomes a basic compulsion which revolves around fear of abandonment and is more intense than a simple failure to provide for self-care. Those who develop love addiction seek enmeshment with others in their adult relationships as an addictive way of dealing with their internal feelings of emptiness.
Read more about the dynamics of Love Addiction and Love Avoidance that develop from the abuse of dependency needs in these posts at the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog. In contrast to the love addicted, those who develop love avoidance find their self-worth in caretaking as a consequence of enmeshment, and intimacy in relationship is replaced by duty and deadness. The drama created by the dysfunctional dynamics becomes mistaken for passion, intimacy and love.
Adults who learned that basic needs were shameful tend to be aware of their basic needs but often fail to seek to meet them. They've learned that interdependence results in shame and can involve punishment of some kind, so they avoid their needs to avoid discomfort. The experience of unmet physical needs in childhood creates emotional consequences in adulthood, interfering with the adult's ability to trust. Dependency plays on their sense of trust and vulnerability, so the building of emotional walls tends to go hand in hand with this type of denial of needs.
Alternately, an adult can also extravert their frustration and can become aggressive, particularly if they never learned the distinction between wants and needs. They may misinterpret all of their wants and desires as needs, and they will go to any lengths to meet their desires. This may lead to self-destructive poor self management and planning. Such problems often result in financial problems as well as boundary issues in relationships with other adults.
The child of the over-protective parent fails to develop effective and appropriate self-care traits and behaviors which can result in self-care deficits. They were not encouraged to problem solve or anticipate their needs, so they fail to attend to them, though they are generally well aware of them. In relationships, these adults tend to be very needy and helpless and usually resort to manipulative behavior to get others to meet the needs that the parent once met for them. These individuals become prime targets for manipulation by those with poor external boundaries, religious con men, and other types of exploitation when a manipulator promises to meet their needs.
As noted earlier concerning the natural characteristics of children, the parent's proper respect for and care of a child's immaturity builds the basis for self control in their adulthood and helps them learn how to effectively manage and govern their lives as adults. This mastery, a characteristic of maturity, also provides for a healthy sense of spontaneity. Healthy maturity involves relaxation and time for restoration, an early lesson that the parent can build into a child through celebration of that spontaneous wonder and joy of life that children possess.
Parental Intolerance of Immaturity
As discussed in an earlier post, sometimes parents can become weary of the boundless energy and the self centeredness of their children, failing to see these qualities as the gifts they are given to accomplish the hard task of growing up. When a parent fails to accept these traits which they view as an inconvenience, or they punish these qualities in the child, the child learns to feel shame when “being authentic” and honest.
They also learn that they are loved only when they perform, so they learn to base their worth on performance. The parent expects the child to perform like a small adult instead of their behaving in accordance to their developmental age, even though they lack the skills, the self-control, and the experience necessary. Voddie Baucham's First Time Obedience principle and Michael Pearl's Child Training Method offer excellent examples of parenting styles that demand inappropriately mature behavior from young children.
Demanding maturity of an immature child sets them up for life patterns of constricted control or chaos, or some combination of a swing between both of them. The pressure to perform as an adult overwhelms the child, as they fear both direct punishment and denial of love and attention through parental withdrawal or disapproval.
The Powerful Influence of the Family Script
Depending on the role that the child was required to play in their family of origin, they will experience different types of responses from the parent and will tend to manifest different responses of their own.
As previously noted, dysfunctional families assign predictable roles to family members as a coping mechanism which helps to accommodate the abusive or addictive traits of one of the other family members.
These roles typically include both positive and negative roles or characters:
- Surrogate (parent or partner
- Rebel or “black sheep”
- Lost Child
The children who follow the positive roles within the family tend to become very controlling themselves, modeling and repeating the parent's own intolerance, something which produced a great deal of self-disgust for the child as well as deep toxic shame for failing to be what they cannot be, despite their parents' unreasonable demands. They experience tremendous levels of anxiety because they take on those dutiful roles in the family. But in contrast, the rewards that the child derives from the praise and benefit they receive for effective performance tends to give them more opportunity and resources within the family. They learn to base their worth on performance, become people pleasers, and overachievers. They tend to be very dogmatic and demanding with others because of their difficulty in tolerating their limitations. These over-compliant children tend to become caretakers of the children in the family who fall into negative roles, learning care taking behaviors for siblings and parents.
Those children who fall into the negative roles within the family experience much different treatment than their siblings. They tend to be overwhelmed by the parent's unreasonable demands, unable to perform because of their high anxiety, anger, and resentment which they are not permitted to directly and openly express. Because of their low performance, these children may actually be over-indulged and not held accountable for their lack of age-appropriate behavior and are just shamed instead. This is the fate of the scapegoat, and these children become the convenient excuse for all of the problems in the family because they are just not mature enough to live up to parental expectations.
Rather than working to help this child overcome their weaknesses, parents (and siblings who read the required script) may see them as the eternally hapless, so the parent abandons the to their immaturity. Giving up on the child's ability to mature, the parent stops expecting them to ever grow into mature behavior, so the stop encouraging it altogether. It becomes a type of abandonment, and they are left to themselves to develop self-control without any help from the parent.
And many children develop compartmentalized maturity and immaturity, manifesting characteristics of several of the roles in the family script. Depending on what the parent needs from them and what their natural strengths are, these children may develop a mix of extreme behaviors. They will be over-responsible in some areas and completely ineffective in other areas, having trouble with self-control on many levels.
Poor Modulation of Emotions and Behaviors in Adults
Primarily, the characteristics that the children develop in the home as children intensify in adulthood. Difficulty with moderation and outright avoidance of moderation emerges as a core symptom and problem experienced by adults who were raised in homes where their lack of maturity was not tolerated and anticipated. These adults have difficulty with the routine experience and expression of mature, adult behavior, understanding balance as lack of passion or lack of life because the chaos and drama in their family of origin raises the bar on the level of stimulation they need.
The trauma experienced by the loss of the spontaneous experience of being a child creates a sense of deadness and numbness, a way of coping with pain and grief which seems impossible to comprehend. In order to feel alive, the adult child from a dysfunctional family tends to seek out the extremes, a way of compensating and breaking through the numbness of their dissociation.
Human beings are also drawn, almost compulsively, to relationships that are familiar, especially if they are traumatic. This tendency is enhanced by the compulsion to reenact unresolved trauma, a subconscious drive to some how understand and master their past as well as manage difficult emotions. New extremes can serve as a lovely diversion for emotions that keep popping up related to childhood and may help to promote denial concerning the real roots of their ineffective and maladaptive ways of coping. (Read more HERE.)
The over-mature and controlling adult children of dysfunctional homes tend to erect walls as boundaries in relationships, and the relationships that they do foster tend to be very non-spontaneous. They've never been allowed to embrace their immaturity, and that is how they perceive appropriate playful behavior in adulthood. I believe that these individuals tend to gravitate towards legalistic religions and fringe Christianity, believing that their extremes demonstrate greater faith. Plain, old mainstream religion just doesn't seem like quite enough for them. They don't want to follow "dead Christianity," so they choose extreme versions of it that play on cultic themes of conspiracy, catastrophe, and legalism.
Those children who take on the rebellion tend to become immature adults with poor self-control. Their adult relationships tend toward chaos. They may also compartmentalize over-maturity and immaturity, manifesting success, perfection, and overachievement in one area of life, while other areas seem chaotic and disproportionately so, given their other competencies and successes. Their individual relationships may flux between chaos and control which makes intimacy and long-term relationships quite difficult.
Those who tend to manifest collapsed or introverted symptoms and chaotic relationships are at risk for victimization and exploitation by manipulators, though they also tend to be manipulative because of their immaturity, using more primitive ways of coping with adult life. If the individual have difficulties with their internal boundaries, they tend to become abusive in their relationships. They may be intolerant and dogmatic of those who hold ideas that differ from their own, and they tend to repeat the same demanding and intolerant family dynamics with their own children. They loathe their own immaturity, so they also loathe the same behavior in their children.
UPDATE 22Jan12: Read about another aspect of this characteristic of children which gets transferred into adulthood when people leave spiritual abusive groups, only to join another one. When you visit, make sure to read the comments that follow Lewis' post on The Commandments of Men.
"VICTIMS OF CIRCUMSTANCE"
(PEACE/WORTH FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES -- EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL)
Shame-based Parenting Fills a Child's Heart with Shame Instead of Love: Disrespect for Children that Tilled the Soil for Abuse at Hephzibah House
If you recall, this latest discussion here concerning developmental problems and deficits in children came about after a supporter of Ron Williams, the proprietor of Hephzibah House (HH), published a blog post that challenges those HH Survivors who have come forward to tell of the abject abuse and terrible conditions they suffered while incarcerated there. There are many other Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) homes of this type where children suffer these same conditions right now, every day. Kathryn Joyce wrote an excellent, must-read article describing several of these homes where young men and women live in and under unthinkable conditions as punishment under the guise of rehabilitation through religion.
Though the lasting psychological consequences of the extreme conditions in these homes results in a loss of healthy perspective for the survivors, based on the histories of the children who are sent to IFB reform homes, many of the homes wherein they were raised laid the foundations for unhealthy thinking before those children ever made it to these facilities. I believe that to fully heal from the abuse experience, the survivor must look deeper into their history to find the roots of the patterns that were intensified and exploited at HH. I believe that an essential part of healing for many of the survivors involves examining the developmental factors that originated with the their families of origin.
accept a child's qualities of self-centeredness, their boundless energy, and their resilience so that they can form realistic expectations about the child's capabilities. These qualities, the gifts of childhood, create characteristics that a parent must respect and anticipate because their children are valuable, vulnerable, imperfect, dependent, and immature while they are growing up.
As we read in the review of the five basic characteristics of children, when a parent lacks understanding of their child or has a lack of their own internal resources, that sense of abundance, worth and peace within themselves, they obviously do not have enough of that goodness to share. No human being is perfect, and parents often do lack their own sense of worth and peace. They might also have their own personality-based natural strengths and weaknesses that interfere with communicating well with the child. In dysfunctional families however, parents and children draw nurture from each other and/or they can unload their frustrations off on one another in unhealthy ways which create and foster more dysfunction.
When a parent carries a great deal of shame because of their experiences and because of the nurture and skills that they may have missed, they lack the resources to effectively parent their children, at least in the ideal sense. Especially concerning imperfection and immaturity, we see prime examples of a parent who feels a great deal of shame themselves. Human beings are both imperfect and are sometimes immature, and even adults enjoy a sense of their inner childlike qualities. If a person believes false ideas including ideas that life should be fair, that they should be perfect, or that children should have capabilities beyond their developmental ability, these ideas bring the parent's own internal sense of shame to the surface.
What do we do with shame? It's an uncomfortable emotion, and when undeserved or inappropriate to bear, it's quite natural to seek to get rid of shame. Unfortunately, in a parent who carries a great deal of toxic shame through either false ideas about the reality of how life works or because they are full of shame over the parenting they received, they usually unconsciously unload their own shame into their children. If shame comprises the core experience of the parent, and this shame replaces the parent's sense of abundance (worth, peace, and safety), they only have shame to share with their child. The child becomes their secondary receptacle for it.
Most people do not like to dwell on or think about the experiences that they found shaming, and for those who grew up in homes where they were shamed when they were very little, they will not consciously remember specific events. The experience of shame can be terrifying, and adults who carry this kind of shame through intolerance and controlling behaviors will usually do anything to avoid feeling these overwhelming emotions. When a child triggers shame in an aggressive or angry parent who compensates for their shame through control and intolerance, the parent usually either shames or punishes the child.
Alice Miller writes in The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting
(pp 27 -8):
In every adult who has suffered absue as a child lies dormant that small child's fear of punishment at the hand of the parents if he or she should dare rebel against their behavior. . . .These patterns of childhood will inevitably then be adopted by their victims whenever the fear and anxiety used on their partners and their own children, at work, in politics, wherever the fear and anxiety of the profoundly insecuare child can be fended off with the aid of external power. It is in this way that dictators are born; these are people with a deep-seated contempt for everyone else, people who were never respected as children and thus do their utmost to earn that respect at a later state with the assistance of the gigantic power they have built up around them.
Parents who tend to resort to punishment and/or demonstrate high needs for control often display characteristics of narcissism. Note these excerpts from a post at Overcoming Botkin Syndrome about the Narcissistic Parent in the homeschooling's partriarchy movement:
In a most basic sense, narcissists with NPD display exaggerated self-interest because they are compensating for fear and high sensitivity to criticism. This exaggeration is a means of coping with and resisting the disturbing emotions that they feel deep inside, emotions that they deny feeling, even to themselves. Some of the hallmark features of NPD include personal grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration/attention, a sense of entitlement, and a diminished capacity for empathy. When a person with NPD feels threatened or becomes uncomfortably aware of their internal sense of shame and inferiority, they behave in a number of predictable ways which creates problems for those with whom they interact. . . .If you are a child or partner of someone with NPD, you will find them unable to handle any kind of criticism, resorting to demeaning tactics and intense anger when they feel threatened (though they will never let you see that they feel threatened because of their grandiosity). They NEVER admit to wrongdoing, and when consequences force them to realize that they have failed to be perfect, they will become even more dramatic, emotional, and aggressive. Life is all about blaming other people for their shortcomings, because they are really just terrified inside. Like playground bullies, they don’t take well to open confrontation. Direct confrontation usually becomes explosive, as the narcissist prefers to be passive-aggressive because they actually fear confrontation. That makes them hard to understand, because on the exterior, they seem to seek out conflict and aggression. Considering their inner experience of helplessness and fear seems oxymoronic (if not impossible) when you are on the receiving end of their wrath and if you believe their exaggerated perceptions of themselves.
How Dysfunctional Parents Siphon Resources Back from a Child, Depriving them of Healthy Self-Development
In the previous post, we discussed how children lack internal resources which the parent provides to them so that they can develop their own sense of self, internal peace and what many authors describe as a sense of abundance.
Healthy parents understand that their children cannot tolerate or process many aspects of living because of the natural characteristics of children. They understand that they are immature and dependent. When the child reaches maturity, ideally, they've developed a sense and personal worth as well as a sense of peace about being alive and okay in the world.
In the diagram, an empty beaker represents the child's lack of resources, and a heart represents the healthy adult sense of self. Parents that tend to be full of shame unload their shame onto their children, but this is not the only way that a parent uses a child when they fail to respect their developmental needs.
The enmeshed parent uses their child in a slightly different way. As we will see in the next post to come, both of these patterns set up the child to become an adult who does not look to who they are in Christ to find worth but obtains all of their sense of worth and peace from performance, circumstances, and the esteem of others.
Quick Review of Enmeshment (a recap of the Vulnerability/Boundaries post)
A parent can use a child in many ways, though we have only described the ways a parent my use a child for their own emotional benefit at the expense of the child. This type of abuse becomes sexually tagged when the parent focuses excessively on gender, and an iconic example of this is the “Daddy's Little Girl” or “Mommy's Little Man” type of relationship.
This type of prolonged relationship creates marital problems within the nuclear family because the enmeshed parent and child will become more tightly bound and emotionally intimate with one another and almost inevitably exceeds the intimacy shared between the parents. This tends to alienate the other parent and it is thought to set up problematic lifelong relationship patterns for the child. (For more information on these types of relationship problems, please visit Overcoming Botkin Syndrome and explore specific relationship topics via the link list.)
Consequences for the Child
This creates multiple problems for the child.
First, because the parent utilizes the child as a source of support, in effect, they siphon back to themselves the love and energy that the child needs to help develop their own sense of self and wholeness. The child becomes dependent upon the parent for their internal sense of peace and wholeness which is appropriate when they are very young but increasingly inappropriate as the child matures. As the child matures and ventures into situations wherein they cannot rely on the parent, it creates a great deal of anxiety for them when they cannot have access to them.
Secondly, though the child enjoys some gratification and sense of specialness because they are so valuable to the parent, this benefit comes at a terribly high price. The child learns rather quickly that they have also become responsible for meeting their parents' needs for support. Because of their own needs and lack, this responsibility becomes overwhelming for them.
They learn self-worth through care taking behaviors and performance, and they feel shame over their inability to comfortably meet demands because they are given responsibility without authority. When the moments arise when it is blatantly obvious that they are not really their parent's peer or the parent behaves differently with them in the presence of others, they also feel a great deal of shame. These children learn that love is about duty and the overwhelming anxiety and pressure they feel on a regular bases leaves them feeling dead inside.
And as previously mentioned, these children become consumed with the overwhelming needs and concerns of their parent. Their own life is displaced by the concerns, the reality, and quite often with the shame of the parent. Instead of awareness of self, the child's inner world must be negated (their heart denied) in favor of the adult's experience, wants, and needs.
Shame Based and Immature Parenting Creates Victims of Circumstance and Dependency on Self (External Locus of Control)
We've now considered the two primary ways that a damaged or immature parent takes from their child (unloading shame and by siphoning back nurture) which we understand results from a parent's disrespect for the child's characteristics (and needs). With that background, we can now better understand how adults, both parents and grown children, cope with the sense of emptiness that they face. As we've noted in the most recent posts, the parent has two drives and needs of their own. They need to both purge shame and gain their own worth, and they pass this “multigenerational faithfulness” down to their children because the have nothing else to give to them. The immature adult must then look to other sources to find worth, peace, safety and soothing elements so that they can cope with the pressures and problems of life.
As discussed, the parent uses their child to meet their inner needs. In the diagram, note that the parent holds a part of the child hostage through the dependency the have on the child, and the child draws worth from the relationship. But what happens when the parent disappears or the child becomes separated from the parent?
The child is left with their own sense of emptiness, and they must try to find ways to function. They must do what their parents have done, and they will opportunistically find ways to fill their inner emptiness. The child learns to draw worth form their performance (caring for others as they cared for the parent, through good opinions that others have of them, and through outward things like their appearance, or good circumstances. All people tend to do this to build up their optimism, they have a full hearts and an intact sense of self. The do not depend on these outward things as their sole source of good experience.
The immature, empty, and shamed parent operates only external sources of good feelings. They work very hard to avoid the shame they feel as well as the emptiness, and they become rigid and tired in this process. They tend to become intolerant and demanding because they avoid facing their unpleasant emotions by controlling whatever they can in their world. As mentioned before, the parent avoids shame by punishing the imperfection of their child because they cannot tolerate their own emotions. When successful, they believe that they've conquered the emotion, but they've only managed to avoid it. It becomes a reward for their attempt to control, creating the illusion that they are powerful and free. They learn how to manipulate others so that their behavior works to help them feel better and helps them avoid their internal pain.
The other ways that an immature adult avoids their inner pain comes through performance, basing their worth and peace on their successes. This is often why certain people become very driven to accomplish and why they work so hard in their vocations, as they have learned to find their worth and peace outside of themselves through their own effort. They trick themselves into believing that they are controlling things that are well outside of their influence. Though people can be responsible with money, it is possible to end up in circumstances beyond their control where they can owe more or need more money than they can obtain or earn. People can take impeccable care of their home, but in the event of an earthquake or a flood, that person's efforts to prevent harm to their home cannot protect them. We can do all we can to have good health, but quite often, we can end up developing diseases that are far beyond our ability to control. Or a person can be the very best at their profession, but kind of work that they do can become obsolete. So this system of looking outside of one's self to find worth and peace works well only when a person can perform well and only when circumstances are very good. But what happens on rainy days?
As we all well know when depending on peace and worth from things outside of ourselves, we are destined for heartache. Life is full of a great many things that are well-beyond our sphere of control. When the people from whom a person derives worth dies or becomes parted from them, and when they experience the the painful processes of life, they go right back to the beginning of the process. When they fail or when the illusion of control falls apart (as it does in life at some point), the person is left to again face their sense of shame and their lack of worth which feels like worthlessness. Some people appear to do well in the process, but they mask the pain of the rainy day.
Of course, for the Christian, the solution to the problem should be rather simple through realizing that human beings are imperfect and limited but finding one's identity in Christ will fill our hearts and our emptiness. He heals us of our toxic shame which Jesus bore on the Cross for us that we might have no condemnation. We can put our faith and trust in Him to heal us and fill us up, and then on the rainy days in life, we can have worth in Him and enduring peace in the storm. At its root, the reliance on external things to find peace and worth is no different than original sin. Man tricks himself into the idea of believing that he can control his life, powerful enough and strong enough to build up his own sense of peace and worth. But we can only get so far when we do this.
In my own life and in my own journey out of shame, performance, and low worth because I derived my worth from the esteem of others, I think that a good bit of my life has been the “fear and trembling” of repenting of all of the ways I've tried to deal with shame and low worth on my own instead. Many religious people do the same thing with their attempts to accomplish things in Jesus' Name to accomplish great things for Him. They determine what they think they need to do, then go about doing those things in their own strength through their own effort. We all get tricked into thinking that we are more powerful than we are, forgetting that without Him, we can do nothing. There is no switch that flips that releases us from the trappings of being parented by an immature person, and in fact, that plight is very much the same plight that all mankind suffers – the illusion and desire to be powerful enough that we do not need God. We must spend our lives learning that.
It is sad to realize that many Christian systems teach others to be limited and dependent and that their only sense of self worth and self esteem can come from following the rules that they develop. It is our human tendency to believe, also, that we must merit the goodness that God shows to us in abundance because of His loving kindness and disposition of grace toward us. In unhealthy parenting, the parent primes the child to accept only outside sources of love and worth. This creates a great foothold for manipulators to be able to hurt and use the adult who is empty and full of shame. Religious systems can exploit that toxic level of undeserved shame that we feel, making it quite easy to grab and use as a handle to twist us through condemnation and legalism.
I believe that for the girls who found their way to Hephzibah House, the abuse they suffered there only added to the shame and emptiness that many had before they ever arrived there. It primed them to become the victims of Ron and Patti Williams (the proprietors), as they used the Hephzibah Girls to bolster their own illusion of control so that they could ward off the darkness of shame and emptiness in their own hearts. In that sense, Ron Williams is far more pathetic than anyone who has ever been in his care, as he used people as objects to ward off his own pain. How much pain and emptiness must be in his heart to drive him to go to such extreme lengths to avoid his own negative feelings? But sadly, he chose to make victims of the girls there, teaching them to become even more powerless and greater victims of circumstance.
ALSO SEE THIS POST RELATED POST ENTITLED Extremes in Postmodern Religious Addiction and the Childhood Roots of Victimization
SUMMARY AND RESOURCES FOR HEALING
The purpose for this review of the developmental needs of childhood and how parents can show dishonor to those needs came about to help the reader understand why a young woman exiting Hephzibah House (HH) would fail to protect herself once she left. If a person had developmental deficits going into the home, she would certainly have them upon leaving. Those identified characteristics (and resulting needs) are value, vulnerability, imperfection, dependency, and immaturity. (Explore these topics HERE in a developing index of posts on this topic.)
The purpose for this review of the developmental needs of childhood and how parents can show dishonor to those needs came about to help the reader understand why a young woman exiting Hephzibah House (HH) would fail to protect herself once she left. If a person had developmental deficits going into the home, she would certainly have them upon leaving. Those identified characteristics (and resulting needs) are value, vulnerability, imperfection, dependency, and immaturity. (Explore these topics HERE in a developing index of posts on this topic.)
Why protect yourself if you have no worth, if you have no right to have personal boundaries, if it is required of you to be perfect though it is impossible, if you're taught that you must have no needs (and guilt over having them), and if you're required to be the epitome of self-control when you're life is completely out of your own control??? A person can respond to trauma through a “freezing response” which we will explore further in future posts, but post traumatic stress after leaving HH may only capitalize upon the deep felt helplessness in the heart because of emotional issues from early childhood. For many who endured at Hephzibah House, it was actually a revictimization experience re-traumatizing a previous and older emotional wound.
Priming Children for Spiritual Abuse in Adulthood?
Spiritual abuse is a type of trauma, and looking back on my own history, my spiritual abuse experience was really just a type of repeating of previous trauma. When I married to “leave and cleave,” I took all of my own shame and spiritual emptiness along with me, and I looked to a new source with which I could fill up my own heart. I transferred some of that need, for a time, into my job and my husband, but my primary source of trying to fill what I thought was the “God-shaped void” that Pascal talked about with religion and the traditions of men instead of real self-worth. All I did was “switch drugs of choice,” transferring my needs and attempts to numb my own shame using a source other than my parent.
I made the church my new parent (the church had plenty of shame to dole out), and I made performing roles and the desires of church leadership my new means of earning worth (or grace, as Gothard would put it). Without thinking about it, and in my childish ways, I put God in a box that was shaped like my own parents. I misunderstood religion and traditions for God's heart of abundance, and I drew from an institution what I should have drawn only from my identity in Christ.
I still seem to expect instant results, too. In my immaturity, salvation by faith in Jesus should have been an “add water and stir” deliverance from the problems and pain of life, and from the working out of my salvation in fear and trembling. Somehow, by grace through faith and the process of justification alone, I have an expectation in my head that my immaturity in these areas would melt away. “Should-ing all over myself,” I should have been able to avoid spiritual abuse, knowing better how to serve God instead of men who represented God, a thought (and a fact) that still disturbs me. I let that disturbed feeling fuel my recovery, because I dread the day that I ever feel comfortable with it because it is the essence of idolatry.
What still troubles me is that I had knowledge of these developmental needs before both knowledge of spiritual abuse/thought reform and my own experience of crushing under a pastor in the Shepherding/Discipleship Movement. And more troubling on a functional level, I still work to bring my thoughts captive to Christ concerning these old wounds, because they are my path of least resistance when I drift off center or slack off in my spiritual life. They are the patterns my flesh takes when my flesh takes over. Depending whether I choose to look at it that way, like the nature of my flesh which will always be an influence against which to guard, they seem like wounds that will not ever heal until I leave this life because they are my “default programming.” I display my flesh nature as some way of playing out that which I didn't get right in childhood. Most of my spiritual warfare concerns the war in my own heart against some of these basic, sick ideas (“I should be perfect.” “I shouldn't have needs” “I am not valuable.”) and the many creative ways I translate them into my active, ongoing, adult life.
Finding Healing Through the Twelve Steps: Recovery from the Emotional Wounds of Childhood (and from Spiritual Abuse)
Once you've realized that you've got emotional wounds left over from your childhood and where they came from, where do you go? I go to the Cross. In terms of the specific problems that arise from the particular emotional wounds that govern the way my flesh tends to act, I show myself responsible to God and others using the framework of the Twelve Steps – the only viable hope of healing that I have to offer anyone.
My Journey of Acceptance
As part of my training as a nurse, and through classes that focused on the primary health problems of adults, I spent time observing care in the clinical settings of drug and alcohol rehab facilities. At the tender age of 19 and 20, this experience taught me a some vital and very moving lessons about my own nature and myself. One day, I was in South Philadelphia observing a group therapy session with addicted teens, and as I listened to their stories, I had a very dramatic epiphany. At the end of the session, I asked the therapist if I could address the group, and he graciously complied. I explained to those teens at an inpatient detox ward that the only real difference that I could see between us was that rather than turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with my own pain, I turned to other things. I turned, primarily, to performance (through work and school) and to religion.
It felt important for me to verbalize that to the group, because I recognized that I was no different than any of them. I'd suffered feelings and family issues and disappointments and circumstances that were in some real way identical to their own. I had an important epiphany about the nature of my own development, and I think that God graciously allowed me to have that experience so that I could feel comfortable finding help later. The therapy session ended, and I was in the center of a mass of weeping and hugging from those kids, and I knew that I'd learned a very important life lesson that day. It put me in mind of the old saying from The Shadow: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” I certainly shared the same pain and what seemed to me at the time like too many uncanny common experiences with these young addicts. I had non-chemical addictions. Today, I am so grateful to God for putting that powerful and defining moment into my life, because I was quite ready and willing to admit the similarities.
Jump forward with me a bit to the weeks before my wedding. I vividly remember being told as a five year old child that my wedding was the one day in my life that I could do whatever and could have whatever I wanted. For reasons related to my own dysfunction (!), I spent a long time looking forward to that promised day, only to realize that it wasn't going to turn out as I'd always hoped. My mother waged a war of control against what seemed like my every effort and disapproved of so much, even though I paid for all of the expenses myself (and even elements of that became a struggle with her). I ended up weeping on the phone to the wife of the minister who was coming into town to perform a part of the ceremony, overwhelmed with the pain that was resulting from what I thought was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. She suggested a couple of books, and asked me if I could approach my mother to ask her for her blessing. Gary Smalley's books were quite popular at the time, and The Blessing was one of his themes. When I expressed that this was almost unthinkable, the pastor's wife and dear friend asked me if I'd ever read or would consider reading Love is a Choice. I didn't. I didn't want to think about being one of those crazies on a talk show, whining and whimpering, and I felt a great deal of disgust at the prospect of anything like that.
Jump again with me to my early twenties and my first official experience as an assistant nurse manager (so I could be on day shift with limited weekends!!!), but a job that I learned later chewed up numbers of people and spit them out, before I got there and after I left. After three weeks, I wanted to resign and melted into a puddle of brokenness in my supervisor's office, brutally aware of how limited I really was, at the end of myself and in the face of so much human need. Long story short, I went straight away to read Love is a Choice at her recommendation. Shortly thereafter, I read Stoop's transforming book, but I also learned through another book that like the majority of people who work in helping professions, more than 90% of nurses classified as “dysfunctional” (as it was associated with addiction) and also had high degrees of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I did qualify for a spot on a talk show couch at that point, and I could not deny it. Not with hard research in front of me, and especially not without discounting the precious wisdom of that pastor's wife and the powerful experiences I'd had training as a nurse. The puzzle pieces started coming together, and though difficult, I saw answers to the problems that I struggled with so desperately for so long. I didn't like the picture, but the fact that there was a workable picture filled me with hope and freed me from condemnation.
At this same time, I still felt very uncomfortable when people devalued my religious ideas, believing wrongly that their reactions made more of a statement about them that they did about me. (This is no longer the case, but I lived it then.) I was also very uncomfortable with the anti-religion bias held by many in the field of mental health, and I struggled with this material as I completed my training in nursing. Trying to figure out how my religious beliefs fit into the practical needs of patients with mental health disorders challenged that very dogmatic position that I learned while growing up in an uptight and easily intimidated quadrant of evangelical Christianity. This was, of course, compounded by my own emotional developmental deficits, the subject of this series of posts. I lived as a “victim of circumstance” by an external locus of control, gauging my worth and peace based on the opinions of others.
On my very first day working as a volunteer at a Crisis Pregnancy Center (after I left my few months at that nurse-devouring, impossible job!), the husband of the woman training me came in, and pretty much took over that day. (CPC work was my alternative to the then very active Randall Terry who was in the throws of getting thrown in jail for his abortion clinic protesting.) I sat back and watched this woman's husband talk with a couple of high school girls who wandered in after school. He was a resident, a physician, in the psychiatry program at a local hospital, and I struck up a conversation with him. I approached the topic with my discomfort in tow, and as a Christian, this man dramatically changed my outlook. When I asked how he could cope with the anti-Christian bias and the evolutionary premise in that particular area of medicine, he rocked my world. He said that he focused on the Christian message of the Twelve Steps, and from that vantage, he found a powerful place to not only make sense of things, but found a platform for Christian ministry within the profession. Here again was another puzzle piece that fit right into my picture. The Christian texts on the subject of recovery and codependency all boil down to a central message of hope based on a quote from a written prayer of Reinhold Neibuhr:
God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the difference the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is – not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to your will. So that I might be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.
Ever hear of the duck test? If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like one, then it's a duck. I could not deny that I was unavoidably dysfunctional, a message that my life repeated and repeated, in grace and love. Who knows what dysfunction lurks in the hearts of men? I saw or at least began to accept myself in this way, just as I think that Paul saw himself as the chief of sinners. And my work of healing was definitely not yet complete.
The Hope of All Healing
I could try to reinvent the wheel, writing a history of the development of the Twelve Steps, but I will let you do some of that exploration on your own. (I've already listed many resources.) I could also go into a defense of the Twelve Steps, because I understand that some Christians say that they are flawed because they recommend starting from where you are – coming to God as you understand Him. They are offended that in order to help people start from where they are, they refer to God as a less-defined “Higher Power.” I hear that some claim that this is blasphemy, because we should meet God where He is – that we must go to Him, addressing Him in the most appropriate way (though many who start the journey are very unacquainted with Him, even by name). Not everyone has that knowledge, so they are encouraged to start the journey honestly from where they find themselves. (I'm no longer too uptight or overly concerned with how other people put things into perspective when it comes to starting the journey in this sense. I'm too overwhelmed with my own limitations, shall we say.)
All I can tell you is that I believe and know that He pulled me out of the miry clay, and I don't think that I am at all capable of getting to Him without his loving kindness and intervention. But I believe that I know who He is, and I a responsible for myself and focus on my own approach. I do that through the approach laid out in the Bible.
Shame of Sin
Essentially, the message of dysfunction boils down to original sin, and we must acknowledge that we are not God and that He is. All of our shame ultimately traces back to our shame that we are not like Him but desire to be. Isn't that the condition of everyone? Doesn't that make us all "dysfunctional?"
If you happen to be reading here and are an atheist or have huge problems with God and how you fit with the concept of a “Higher Power,” you'll have to figure out how to put that into perspective. I offer what I have to encourage people, and this is the only meaning that I find remotely satisfying that helps me make sense of things in my life. I don't offer this message as one of condemnation – I offer it because it is all I have to give. Everyone has to find the glue that holds their lives together in a meaningful way, allowing them to live a meaningful life. I hope that all at least find a way to live a meaningful life, and that is the work of every individual. This is message is the fruit of mine.
As mentioned in previous posts, the National Association for Christian Recovery offers much wisdom on this topic, in addition to other resources presented here. Their site features a very user-friendly search engine, and near the bottom right hand of their home page in the right hand sidebar, they also list links to other Christian organizations (Ministry Partners) that also present the message of recovery. Between the resource list and these links, you can find more help and guidance than I could ever begin to provide. I hope that all these things will be a help to you on your journey.
The Twelve Steps of Recovery
- We admitted we were powerless over our separation from God—that our lives had become unmanageable. (Romans 7:18)
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Philippians 2:13)
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him. (Romans 12:1)
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Lamentations 3:40)
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (James 5:16)
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. (James 4:10)
- We humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings. (I John 1:9)
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. (Luke 6:31)
- We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. (Matthew 5:23-24)
- We continued to take personal inventory when we were wrong and promptly admitted it. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
- We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will and for the power to carry that out. (Colossians 3:16)
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Galatians 6:1)
Original post 19Jun08; Update Jan2012
Almost four years has elapsed since I first developed this list of helpful books and information for coping with shame -- specifically the type of toxic shame in adulthood that results from deficits in emotional development. If you found the discussion of the characteristics of a child and how immature parenting affects adults, you will benefit greatly from these resources. Explore the whole series about the childhood roots of victimization HERE.
I've broken down the titles into Christian resources and secular ones.
Concerning Emotional Developmental Deficits and Recovery
Audio and Video: “From Shame to Glory”
Presentations by Kathryn Chamberlin, LCSW-C
Kathryn attends the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, a church that is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination, following the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism.
As you are free to note on her webpage, she holds a nursing degree from University of Virginia, a Master's Degree in Social Work from The Catholic University and certification in Biblical Counseling. She practices Christian counseling with the Bethesda Counseling Group, offering services to those in the Baltimore-DC Metro area.
Kathryn's presentation, “From Shame to Glory” is perhaps the best place to start a journey out of shame and into the liberty that is afforded to all believers in Christ Jesus. She has several other audio resources available, and I would also recommend considering these additional presentations as well:
- Shame versus Worth
- The Approval Addict
- The Performance Trap
- Hurt Trail to Idolatry
- The Door Metaphor
- Love is a Choice. Hemfelt, Minirth and Meier's book examines the problem of persistent shame in the Christian's life. Christ saves us from the shame of sin and restores us, but for those of us who have been raised in families that were lacking the support we desperately needed, we tend to get stuck in patterns of shame that can prevent us from fully embracing the fullness of our forgiveness and liberty in Christ. Their ten step program teaches about how we can get caught up in repetitive patterns of shame and how we can be liberated from shame. ** They also offer a companion workbook (which I have not read).
- Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves. The book that I believe helped me the most during my own recovery has been David Stoop's book, Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves: Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families. The aforementioned book (from the same publisher) presents an overview and an introduction to the topic of the less than ideal emotional development of a child, but Stoop's book takes healing to the next level and explains more specific information about how to heal. I found myself in its pages in a deeper way, amazed at how accurately it described the patterns that I'd lived.
- Boundaries. As mentioned in recent posat and featured in this blog post concerning a child's characteristic of vulnerability, Townsend and Cloud's book explores the issues concerning boundaries from a Christian perspective. In addition to their landmark book, you can also find a host of resources and video clips on important topics at Cloud-Townsend Resources online. The authors also adapted their message about boundaries and authored subsequent books which focused on particular types of relationships, and they are worth considering as well, though I am partial to the first book because it reviews boundaries quite extensively.
- The Lies We Believe and the companion workbook which adds significantly to the material in the book. The author, Dr. Chris Thurman, explores the false ideas that we hold about the world -- ideas which only serve to set us up for heartache. I think of this book as a more structured way of looking at spiritual warfare and bringing every thought captive to the truth, but it is focused on the issues of shame and negative emotion. Through this book, I learned that what healing professions call "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" or working through negative emotion by exploring unrealistic expectations and false ideas about life was essentially the same thing that the Bible teaches by renewing the mind and bringing thoughts captive to Christ by using the Bible as a standard. David Stoop also has a similar book dealing with the topic called You Are What You Think, presenting the same approach to right and healthy thinking -- renewing the mind with healthy thoughts and ideas.
- Lewis Smedes' many books on the topic of forgiveness. I cannot recommend the writings of Smedes more highly enough on one's journey to better understand forgiveness in a healthy way and from a very Christian perspective. He has a host of titles, and I've found them all equally helpful, even though all of the aforementioned authors and books listed here touch on the subject.
- This is Your Brain on Joy. If you've followed this series and found a great deal of benefit through the focus on brain as an organ of the body that deserves special care and consideration, I highly recommend reading Earl Henslin's Christian book which presents not only a plan to help balance mood and restore brain health, but also focuses on spiritual growth. His balanced, Christian approach makes the topic very understandable and practical, taking into consideration the concerns that many Christians have, promoting good stewardship of both mind and body.
- Quivering Daughters (for women). Though Hillary McFarland's book focuses on the plight of young women who grew up in the radical end of the homeschooling movement, I believe that any young woman who grew up under shame-based and enmeshed parenting as an Evangelical Christian will benefit tremendously from this book. I am an example of those who can identify with the patterns of enmeshment, though my parents were neither radical conservatives nor was I homeschooled. The patterns of enmeshment do convey, and I believe that any woman from a background of religious condemnation and shame can glean a great deal from the book.
- Make Anger Your Ally. Neil Clark Warren's book (published by Focus on the Family) explains anger from a Christian perspective, focusing on the benefits of anger as a protective mechanism and how to deal with the triggers of anger in a healthy way that we might all observe the Apostle Paul's admonishment to "be angry and sin not." There is also a title on anger in the Minirth Meier/New Life series of books, though I have not read it. Some might find this helpful, as understanding anger presents a significant challenge for many who were raised in evangelicalism that perceived wrongly that anger itself is sinful.
- The Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog! Read many excerpts from these titles on this site's sister blog, Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, which deals directly with the topic of shame-based parenting and enmeshment as it relates to the patriarchy movement.
Online Recovery Resources (some of which are free!):
- Check the National National Association for Christian Recovery website site for searchable archives, their blog, and list of constantly growing resources
- NACR online video workshops
- Free library of articles from back issues of STEPS magazine
- NACR audio workshops (for a nominal fee)
- Meier Clinics' list of online articles discussing a variety of topics
- The (aforementioned) Cloud Townsend Resources site with topical videos
- Rooted in God's Love (NACR, available as a book and as a free daily email)
- Meditations for Christians who Try To Be Perfect (hosted on NACR by Joan Webb (available as a book)
- Northstar Devotional Blog (online resource)
- 12 Step Life Recovery Devotional (Arteburn and Stoop)
- Christian Recovery International Forums (Both NACR forum and a spiritual abuse forum)
Overview, Introduction, and Healing
If you find yourself very compelled by this series and are at ease exploring secular writings, I would consider reading some secular material concerning shame and recovery. Though any book on the subject of shame or codependency as it was once popularly called would be appropriate, I find that these titles have been very good. These have all been time honored and standards in the area of overcoming shame.
- Codependent No More, Beyond Codependency and Codependent's Guide to the Twelve Steps (Melody Beattie)
- Facing Codependence and the companion workbook Breaking Free (Pia Melody)
- Compelled to Control (Miller)
If while reading this series of posts, you identified with the subject and experience of enmeshment and the information on the Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog, there are titles that specifically deal with that subject.
- The Emotional Incest Syndrome: What To Do When A Parent's Love Rules Your Life (Patricia Love)
- Facing Love Addiction: Giving Yourself the Power to Change the Way You Love (Melody)
- Toxic Parents (Forward)
- Silently Seduced. . .Understanding Covert Incest (Adams)
- When He's Married to Mom: How to Help Mother-Enmeshed Men... (Adams)
There are also a host of titles that concern intimacy and specifically delve into issues of parenting. I cannot begin to list them all, and my personal journey is unique, but I found these secular titles particularly helpful to me in my own journey of recovery. **Highly recommended**
- **Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists and their Struggle for Self (Golomb)
- **Who's Pulling Your Strings (Braiker)
- The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self (Miller)
- The Gifted Adult (Jacobsen)
Finding a Counselor to Deal Specifically with the Adult Problems Resulting from Emotional Developmental Deficits During Childhood
In response to the posts concerning the “childhood roots of victimization” (the consequences faced by adults who grow up with parents who fail to respect the characteristics and needs of children), I've received several emails asking for advice about how to find a good counselor.
Given the very promising research and my own positive experience, and though I'm a big fan of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I really believe that when dealing with trauma and depression, I believe that Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing offers the best alternative.
So what weird language am I speaking?
Types of Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is generally accepted as the best, standard therapy, and most people consider general talk therapy to be synonymous with CBT (though I no longer necessarily do). Cognitive means “thinking,” and CBT looks at how thought affects behavior (and emotion). It assumes that if your thoughts are healthy and realistic, your thoughts will guide your emotions, and your emotional state will become more positive. Essentially, this is the principle behind spiritual warfare. If you thoughts remain governed by a proper understanding of Scripture, good behavior and emotions will flow from those thoughts. I think that right thinking is essential. In the previous related post concerning resources for healing, I mentioned The Lies We Believe and the great companion workbook by Chris Thurman and a similar book by David Stoop called You Are What You Think. These Christian books can get you well on your way to doing much of your own CBT work yourself.
Another nice thing about these books? They can help give you structure for keeping a personal journal which for some marvelous reason helps to speed and aid emotional healing. I have an associate who once saw data from a study quoted by Marcia Means which showed that writing with pen and paper actually helped enhance healing of the mind and emotions. However, I have also heard people claim that the bilateral use of hands to type on a keyboard creates the same effect that EMDR achieves which helps reintegrate the brain. Either way, keeping a journal daily and expressing your feelings in some kind of written form does accelerate healing.
general information and their FAQs page. (The drop down tabs at the top of the webpage will also provide you with lots of info.) This website also offers a description of the process.
In depression and in trauma in particular, it is as if the different parts of the brain loose their ability to work smoothly together. The right cerebral hemisphere focuses on feeling, and the left focuses on analytical thought and reason, and based on personality preference, the overwhelmed person will try to “live” in only one side. They will try to avoid feelings, or they will be incapacitated because they find that they are unable to avoid them. At the same time, other areas of the brain become overactive (such as those structures involved in survival), and some become underactive, producing a less than healthy state and practical level of function. Signs of this that we see translate as depression, an inability to concentrate, or unpleasant memories that become triggered and invade our focus, etc..
By stimulating the mind and the body to think about how the body feels while simultaneously stimulating several very different parts of the brain to work together at the same time through feeling and movement, basically, the technique of EMDR helps the brain realign itself and reintegrate so that it can smoothly work together again. While the separate areas of the brain come back into balance, the technique also realigns the person's thought and ability to feel physical sensation that the body experiences, so it teaches a new level of self awareness which ultimately improves a person's ability to respond to new difficult experiences in the future. In that sense, part of the healing involves a level of physical self-awareness which also helps align these areas of the brain.
In depression and non-complex PTSD, EMDR produces complete relief of symptoms without medication or other intervention in 75% of adults without a history of childhood PTSD/dysfunction during a limited 12 week comparison study with continued improvement upon six month follow up. Adults who experienced some type of depression or trauma as children experienced complete symptom relief at a rate of 33% in only 12 weeks. ([We] just need to work at it a little longer to develop the skill and coping ability that [we] failed to develop in childhood.) Explore additional research HERE.
At the level of neuroanatomy and physiology, as I understand the process and for those with interest in the technical aspect, the focus on the the way the body feels as it moves stimulates an area in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC, a part of that thinking area in the brain's higher cerebral cortex) which seems to have a natural and reflexive calming action on the survival system areas in the brain (the basal ganglia) which becomes very overactive in trauma and in depression. This is why mindful walking, yoga, tai chi, meditation, hypnosis, massage, acupuncture and any repetitive movement which requires the body to both move and focus on the sensations of the body helps in trauma – because they cause that medial PFC to become active, the area that appears to be our only “switch” which allows us to modulate and calm those structures of the brain that regulate the survival response. (In trauma or clinical depression, the idea of distraction or “Don't think about the negative” message that one tends to hear in nouthetic or typical types of “Biblical” counseling actually works against healing. Pastoral counseling can certainly be an adjunct to healing if it enhances the healing of the underlying physiology of trauma.) If you're struggling with overwhelming (irrational) emotion, EMDR presents a very targeted way of contending with those emotions and helps reunite thought and emotion.
The aptly named process thus guides the client into a desensitization to their experience of painful memory (so that it no longer feels overwhelming, ongoing, or part of that relived type of re-experienced memory that is typical of trauma). The memories of events remain, but the desensitized client can access the memory without that deep and threatening sense of overwhelming and invading emotion that tend to trigger the perception of threat. It becomes like any other memory instead. The reprocessing aspect concerns the CBT element of drawing on rational thought which allows the client to put the experience into perspective.
Shadowspring, a blogger who discusses her recovery after spiritual abuse speaks highly of her experience using EMDR as a powerful help in her journey to find healing and wholeness. HERE is the link to many posts on her blog discussing her experience with the therapy. I have also been a very pleased recipient of the benefits of EMDR myself, after years of CBT alone which did nothing to alleviate the PTSD component of my symptoms. Particularly when dealing with issues of childhood trauma, I believe that EMDR presents the current ideal type of therapy. It will certainly save you time, money, and perhaps the necessity of medication (which I believe can be helpful in the early stages of treatment, especially when accompanied by physical pain and illness).
Develop a Working List of Affordable Practitioners
So stated reasons, I would recommend finding an EMDR therapist first, then I would narrow down possibilities by asking certain questions related to your particular therapy need. And word of mouth and the recommendation of friends is also a most valuable resource, too. The next consideration for most people likely concerns finding a provider that participates with their insurance plan if they have one. Visit the referral engine at www.emdr.com on their site HERE (and take note of their “Hints” on how to best use the search engine which is quite important).
Narrow Down Your Working List
The National Association for Christian Recovery site features a nice and general list of questions to ask a potential therapist as well as a list of Christian counseling organizations. It offers good advice and is well worth reading through.
For stated reasons, I'm less inclined to start my search with the list of organizations they offer, as Nouthetic counselors can be members of some of the groups listed (my general, negative thoughts concerning nouthetic counseling can be found HERE). You may choose to try to cross-reference referrals from the EMDR site and from these Christian organizations, or you may choose to navigate directly from one of these groups:
Here is my own tailored list of suggestions that one might ask a therapist, once you've created a working list of possible providers:
- Qualifications and Credentials. Once you've narrowed down some possible candidates in your local area that ideally work with your insurance provider, ask questions about credentials. I highly recommend finding a therapist with a more clinically oriented background and would avoid some of the study from home counseling programs that do not include instruction in real mental health disorders. You can also check with your state to see who they consider to be legitimate licensed or certified practitioners. In my own state, a practitioner with under a full year of full time experience in counseling can work independently, and their credentials can give you some indication of their level of experience.
- Focused Care for Dealing with Problems Arising from Dysfunctional Families. If you've responded to the material in this series of blog posts, before deciding to schedule a session with a therapist, find out whether your therapist appreciates the addictions and recovery approach or a Twelve Steps approach to therapy (I've used a codependency and recovery model to address child development in these posts, so if you responded to them, it would likely be wise to find a practitioner who also approaches matters from the same perspective.) Some counselors do not take this approach or specialize in different types of therapy.
- Ask about their favorite authors, books and researchers. I also prefer the brain based approach to therapy because of the objective nature of the new findings concerning mental health. Ask the therapist if they are familiar with “three camera SPECT” studies or the writings of Daniel Amen who specializes in these types of brain imaging. Ask who their favorite researchers are concerning trauma, and if Bessel Van der Kolk, Peter Levine, or anyone associated with The Meadows facility in Wickensburg, AZ or The Trauma Center in Boston, MA, you've very likely found a fairly good practitioner who takes an approach to these topics that is similar to my own (if the material on this blog speaks to you.)
- What does the therapist require of the client? Ask whether the therapist assigns homework or requires clients to do certain reading related to the therapy. Do they also encourage or require you to journal? What does the therapist expect of a client?
- How do they evaluate progress? I tend to prefer to seek care from a practitioner who writes a plan of care and evaluates that plan on a regular basis. Ideally, the client (you) should initially work with the therapist to establish very clear and easily evaluated goals for your work together. (A good therapist will show skill at setting goals and working with you to establish measurable and meaningful goals to guide your work with them.)
… And these ideas should give you a place to start!