I looked back through part of my family tree and saw a pattern of dysfunctional, unhealthy relationships that stretched back generations. I was so sure that I was doomed to repeat the same pattern in my own life, that I determined I would never marry or have children of my own. I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting people I loved in the same way that I’d been hurt. It wasn’t until a pastor said these words to me as a teenager that it occurred to me I could do things differently.
“It can stop with you.”
All relationships are dysfunctional to some degree simply because all of us are imperfect sinners. Yet some are so deeply dysfunctional, even downright abusive, that the fallout from them can last a lifetime. Maybe you know that from experience. Now, you just want a fresh start, a chance to break the cycle of dysfunction. And you can.
When we’ve been through something awful, our first reaction is often to “stuff it”. Just box it up and don’t think about it. That’s what I did. I tried to bury everything that had happened, every hurtful word. I mistakenly believed that doing so was “moving on”. I made excuses. I told myself that it was wrong for me to feel angry. I felt guilty, scared, and ashamed. Beneath all of that, the anger still simmered away for years. Ignoring something is not the same as dealing with it.
Unpacking all of that baggage during counseling stirred up a lot of strong emotions, and it was hard to handle sometimes. Something unexpected happened though. When I admitted that I was angry about what happened to me, I was finally able to start letting go of that anger. I was able to start figuring out how to forgive. And for the first time… I felt like I could breathe.
When we’re kids, we assume that the relationships we see modeled in our family are the norm for everyone. As we grow up, our tendency is to pattern our own relationships after the ones we are most familiar with. When our relationships were mostly healthy, this is a good thing. When some of those relationships were dysfunctional or even abusive, it’s a different story. This does not mean that you are destined to continue the cycle of unhealthy relationships though!
I knew that I didn’t want my kids to spend their childhood tiptoeing on eggshells. I didn’t want them to hide in the corner of their bedroom because the yelling and arguing scared them. I didn’t want them to believe that all of the emotional turmoil in the house their fault. That meant that I had to learn how to communicate with my husband and kids in healthy ways, even when I was frustrated or upset. It didn’t come naturally to me, and it’s not always easy! There are times when I’m impatient with one of them or when I say something that I shouldn’t have. That’s when I have to swallow my pride and ask for their forgiveness. No excuses, no blaming them, just owning up to my own mistake. I prayed many times that God would help me do things differently, and He has!
The relationships we grow up with do affect how we relate to God.
Instead of picturing God as a loving Father who saw me made whole through the blood of Jesus, I imagined Him as a critical, just waiting to wash his hands of me the moment that I didn’t try hard enough. I felt like I had to be good enough if I wanted God to actually love me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. God does love me, imperfections and all, and he loves you too! He doesn’t expect us to measure up, because we can’t. Yet we were so precious to Him, that he sacrificed His Son in order to save us. To save you.
I’m still very much a work in progress, but God isn’t finished with me. He’s not finished with you either. Our past is only part of the story. He has so much more in store for both us!
“’For I know the plans I have for you’–this is the LORD’s declaration—‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” – Jeremiah 29:11 HCSB
Author’s Note: Dealing with issues like this can be painful and traumatic. Seeking help from a reputable Christian counselor may be necessary. If you or your doctor feel that this would benefit you, please don’t hesitate to seek the help that you need.