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Navigating Past Abuse in Your Family

Navigating Past Abuse in Your Family

For those of you with families that don’t work so well, you have some challenges ahead of you.  The first is, you need to work toward rewriting the negative tapes that were played over and over.  Many times, those tapes were written and broadcast in childhood, by the very same family members you are in a relationship with today. 

You need to allow yourself time, apart from the relationship, to write over those negative messages with positive, affirming truths.  These become the basis of your side of the relationship, overwriting and supplanting any lingering negativity in the relationship.  Whenever the other person’s negativity threatens to become too overwhelming for you, you’ll need to withdraw for a time to recoup and recover.  This may mean that for you to have a healthy relationship with a difficult family member, you may need to maintain limited contact. 

For you, a healthy relationship may be one that is kept strictly within very defined boundaries until you have healed and are healthy enough to engage in anything more significant.  Your new, positive inner dialogue must be stronger than the old, negative patterns of your past.  When this happens, as with Natalie, you’ll be able to control your side of the relationship and allow the relationship to continue under your predetermined parameters. 

For those of you with families that didn’t work at all, you may not have the option, as an adult, to continue within those relationships.  If you grew up in an abusive home, with abusive family members, continuing in relationship with the abusers may not be an option.  You have no obligation to allow yourself to continue to be abused just because it’s family.  In this case, the healthiest relationship you can have with an abuser is no relationship at all.  This isn’t to say that you attempt to erase them from your mind.  On the contrary, you acknowledge who they are, what happened in the past, and, whenever possible, extend as much forgiveness as you are currently able, but you are not obligated to present yourself to the other person for further abuse.  This is appropriate and healthy. 

The hope of change and the power to effect so great a change lies firmly in the hands of God.  This is not your burden to carry.  You were not responsible for the abuse in the past, and you are not responsible to “fix” it in the present or future by downplaying it or dismissing it or pretending it didn’t exist.  If and when the abuser shows remorse and repentance, a true change of heart, then the context of the relationship can be reevaluated. 

Whenever possible, deal with family members with as much grace and forgiveness as you can, recognizing the universal failure of all to meet expectations.  There should be a few actions that cause you to break relationships, but you should stick to those few unwaveringly.  In this way, you are helping your family to understand that you are in the driver’s seat of how you are treated.  You need to be able to limit or withdraw a relationship if a family member violates your boundaries.  Otherwise, err on the side of grace and love.  After all, they’re family. 

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE, and author of 37 books. The Center creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others. If you or a loved one is struggling with past abuse, The Center is here to help. Our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

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