By Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
In any unhealthy, dysfunctional family three unwritten rules exist: Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel. My family of origin was no different.
“What happens in this family, stays in this family,” I recall my father saying once. I don’t recall all the details of what happened when Dad said this but what I do recall is being in trouble for telling an “outsider” something “bad” that had happened in our family. Apparently, the outsider confronted my father about what I had shared with him or her.
Trusting anyone, even God has been a struggle for me in my past. I learned at an early age that some people are not trustworthy, which I projected to everyone, even God as I got older. Growing up with a mentally-ill mother who often contradicted her words and actions, the nature of her illness, I found trusting others difficult. Because love and trust go hand in hand, I also found accepting love from others difficult.
When people would talk about how God loves us just like our earthly parents, I struggled with this concept, as I felt unloved and unacceptable in my mother’s eyes. Nothing seemed to ever be good enough for her. I unconsciously transferred my feelings and attitudes about my mother to God.
“Don’t cry. You’ll upset your mother. ”; “Don’t cry. It gets on your mother’s nerves.”; “Don’t be mad. You shouldn’t be mad.” Commonly hearing such phrases at an early age, I came to believe generalizing that having any type of feelings was inappropriate. Thus, I learned to stuff and deny my emotions, especially the negative ones, at an early age.
The Recovery Process
In the spring of 1989 following the aftermath of having fallen down a flight of stairs and crushing my left ankle in 1988, I was first diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety disorder, and codependency. This is when my recovery began. I find it hard to believe it’s been 30 years now. PTSD was later added to my diagnosis.
As a part of my treatment for depression, anxiety, and codependency shortly after my diagnosis, I entered psychotherapy, “talk therapy”. This was the beginning of my learning to recognize and unlearn the dysfunctional family dynamic rule, “Don’t talk”. Initially, I also was encouraged to find a therapy group to join. No way, was my thoughts about joining any recovery group back then.
Over the years I have learned to see value in support groups and learned that the process is biblical. Consider the following verses:
James 5:16, KJV – “Confess [your] faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
1 John 1:9, KJV – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Galatians 6:2, KJV – “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
I used to be very uncomfortable sharing my weaknesses with others until I became aware of the above verses and of the dysfunctional beliefs I had been taught as a child. Now I have no reservations sharing my testimony, my story of recovery as a part of my ministry. Another verse that frees me to share my story of having been abused, my unhealthy, sinful reactions to the abuse (e.g.: overeating), and my recovery follow:
2 Corinthians 1:3-4, KJV—“3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”
Learning Trust is a Must
While on one hand as a child I learned to mistrust others, on the other hand, I recall my paternal grandmother always telling me, “Honesty is always the best policy. Always tell the truth no matter what.” Mama’s word enabled me to trust her. She was the one person whom I trusted as a child without reservation.
Over the years I learned to trust others with a lot of difficulties. I projected the dishonest practices of my mentally ill mother onto others. Even today I sometimes have trouble not projecting unhealthy attitudes and behaviors of my earthly parents on God, my Heavenly Father. What all of us must know and understand is that the love of God and the love of our earthly parents and anyone else on earth is different. Thus, I never compare God’s love to the love of a parent whenever I witness. Like myself, not everyone has healthy, loving parents to be able to grasp that analogy which in some cases may be applicable.
Proverbs 3:5-8, KJV—“5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. 7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. 8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.”
The Scriptures are full of verses that report individuals having feelings of all types. Having feelings is a natural part of being human. Although, feelings are a part of human nature, one should not live his or her life based on feelings or emotions. Feelings can be fleeting, coming and going, and can be misleading at times.
Proverbs 28:26, KJV—He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
Proverbs 14:12-13, KJV—12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. 13 Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.
Personally, the emotion of anger was what I feared most as I grew up and what I denied feeling most in my early adulthood years. Told as a young toddler not to be mad or angry, I had assumed that anger was wrong, a sin. That was a misconception on my part. Even the Scriptures tell us to be angry but do not sin (Ephesians 4:26). Christ Himself became angry with the moneychangers and overturned their tables (John 2:13-16).
Talking/sharing about any past abuse, sins, etc. in one’s life; learning to trust God and others; and, learning to recognize and address one’s feelings appropriately are keys to a successful recovery from any past “hurt, habit, or hangup”, if I may borrow the phrase from Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step group that I have found most helpful in my journey of recovery.
Are you stuck in recovery? Are you afraid to move forward in recovery for fear of offending someone? Or afraid you might be embarrassed by your own sins being revealed (Luke 12:3)? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I encourage you to let go of old dysfunctional attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are holding you back in moving forward with your healing. Only then can you find the ultimate healing and peace through Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior.