Grieving an Abuser

Love God above all else is the main rule of Christianity. Followed by Mark 12:31, love your neighbor as yourself. God’s love motivates us to rise above, or perhaps more fitting: to step down from our inherent love for ourselves.

There was, therefore, quite a bit of tension as I went through therapy processes and began to heal from past abuse. Since I found the therapy process to be inherently self-absorptive, navel-gazing, looking inward and asking what ‘I’ needed instead of looking around and being willing to sacrifice for what my neighbor might require.

It is because of this vein of self-preservation and self-focus within the therapy process itself, that I believe few therapists will outright recommend cutting ties with difficult, even abusive, family members. Because to estrange oneself from others, especially family, is so very difficult and rife with complications. The cascade of grief which ensues any cutting of ties is a complicated and difficult thing to navigate, especially in someone already riding a wave of unresolved trauma.

In the cases of more egregious forms of abuse, like physical abuse, spiritual abuse and pedophiles, I don’t see how one has a choice but to cut ties with those who are not willing to disclose or admit to, or repent of, such forms of abuse. Because when it comes to those harmful and serious forms of abuse, wherein the abusers themselves remain unrepentant and unwilling to confess, as well as those who remain in denial about such kinds of abusers living amongst us, such people pose an ongoing danger to the innocent. If those aware of who the abusers really are, do not attempt to do or show or say something (even if the something is simply refusing to share airspace with them) to warn others, what is the point of disclosing abuse in the first place? May as well stay quiet and save yourself the entire difficult process which is abuse recovery, then.

It was in trying to honor Jesus’ command that I walk in truth, that I love others as I love myself, that I felt I had no choice BUT to cut so many ties, after I disclosed my own abuse, and then my abusers denied it, and then no one else in my family took it seriously enough to remove their own children or grandchildren from those I had just disclosed were known child abusers. My disclosure merely had the effect of labeling me as the outlier instead of busting up the wolf party so the truly innocent sheep could heal and mend what remained. The abusers continued to get invites to gatherings while I then felt I had no choice but to remove myself from such gatherings, on principal. Because I simply, out of loving my neighbor as myself, could no longer collude with a family dynamic that made it unsafe for children to be present within it.

And so I then had to deal, and still am dealing, with the complicated grieving process which occurs when we cut ties with family members who are still alive, but are partaking of and overlooking egregious sins (often against children) which lead to death and therein are headed down a disastrous road that might end in eternal death if they don’t turn around. Therefore, it was also out of love for my abusers, themselves, a love which stepped down from a self-preserving love for myself, that I disclosed and then cut ties as I waited for them to confess and repent.

There was great relief, I will add, when I cut those ties. My adult children and spouse were never fully comfortable around my abusers. We all had found them exhausting and unlikable. However, my adult children and spouse did not have shared history as I did. Therefore they did not also experience the waves of grief, the sense of loss, the direct gaslighting (denying that what happened had actually happened), the ongoing inner questioning (had I really done the right thing in cutting ties?), which I then had to navigate.

It is not easy, and it remains hard, as my abusers age and the world is full of plagues and pandemics and rioting, which means life became even more perilous and unpredictable this past year than at any point in my life. Any day any one of my abusers might die and then I’ll need to deal with grieving someone’s death, after I intentionally estranged myself from that person.

That will not be easy. A person in my family with whom I now have limited contact, shared with me that the main reason she will not estrange herself from family members is for that very reason, it will make grief too hard. When they die (we all will eventually), she will just feel too bad if she had stopped talking to them. And so, it seems she waits to live and she readily opens herself and her children up to further ongoing abuse too, while the abusers remain alive. She lets those she loves, including her own children, right into the wolf pen, because she can’t stomach chasing him off with a stick in case he dies in the wilderness never to be seen again.

I think I’d rather chase away the wolf, enter into new life, freedom, and have some grief too, so that I don’t have the ongoing guilt of elevating my self-interest above the basic protection of innocents, in letting a wolf make his home in the sheep pen. For it is incredibly self-absorbed and self-preserving to willingly invite known pedophiles, child abusers, spiritual abusers, physical abusers, into my home, where others, including children, are present. Even if they are family. Jesus assures us that all who leave behind family to follow Him will be rewarded ten fold in this life and the next.

It still isn’t easy to actually do that. But we are warned it won’t be easy to live out the commands of Jesus. And so, I also don’t see that I really have a choice but to keep doing exactly what I have done, and keep myself as separate as I possibly can from those who believe that it’s ok to invite pedophiles to their party, and to just pretend abuse didn’t happen so that their own life can be easier somehow. And I wait to adjust my boundaries until my abusers confess and repent.

I see the hope in all of this, though, because Jesus said to take heart, for He has overcome the world. And so, I toss aside what therapists generally advise and other relatives of mine are doing (and not doing) and I grieve and take the hits of the hard stuff now, knowing it might get even harder later too when there is actual death to deal with on top of mere estrangement. And I cling to the words Peter said when Jesus asked His followers if they wanted to desert Him as well: Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?

Receiving holiday cards from ‘no contact’ people.

photo of red mailbox mounted on wall

It started up again. During the season of ‘Christmas Cards’ my husband is tasked with sorting the mail in order to filter out the holiday cards from family members from whom I maintain ‘no contact.’ He looks them over to make sure there isn’t anything I absolutely need to see or know about. You know, just in case someone writes something like ‘I am sorry I assaulted you’ in the margin or something…. Then he gives me a choice on whether or not I want to see it/read it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes not. After I am given that choice, he seems to relish tossing the cards/letters in the trash can.

Witnessing his discarding of the cards actually helps me, tremendously, to get over the boundary breach that is created whenever such cards come into my world.

Yesterday, while looking over the latest card-about-to-be-discarded, my husband commented, “You know, I forgot to tell you but a few weeks ago I read this article about churches that are incorporating electronic tithing. They recommended printing out paper slips for the pews that say ‘I give electronically’ so that when the collection plates are passed, the people who give electronically can still put something into it. The studies show that offering those slips really boosts the number of people who give electronically in a congregation.”

I wrinkled my forehead. One of the things I love best about him is that he often has these very deep insights into things. Occasionally they are so deep (even for me) that they make no immediate sense.

Seeing my confusion he explained: “Your family must think that if they still send us a card, it proves something. Like people who give electronically to churches but still want to throw something in the plate to either participate or to prove to the people next to them that they do actually give…so voila, they have a slip for that which says: ‘we give electronically’. The truth is those people had already given an offering. And they knew it, and God knew it. Why do they need to use a slip of paper to prove it? Seems like a main reason to grab one of those slips would be prideful — doing it just to show other people that, yes, they actually gave something. I think your family is doing this card sending stuff to us just so that they can say, ‘Well, we still send them cards. They are the ones with the problem against us.'”

Indeed. Their continued holiday cards are a lot like a ‘we gave already’ slip into a church offering plate. My estranged family already gave me what they had to offer. It damaged me tremendously. I told them how damaged I was from it. But their response when I passed their own offering plate right back to them was not a deep digging into the pockets of their past. They offered up no new resources, financial or emotional or relational, which could have helped me heal quicker.

All they offered, and all that they are still offering, are empty pieces of holiday papers. Because they already gave; and it sure seems that they aren’t going to give any more than that.