How to Honor Our Dysfunctional Parents
Laura D. Field – September 4, 2015 – Paid Freelance Writer & Blogger
In a culture of abuse and family dysfunction, children are left with emotional scars that live with them for the rest of their lives. And yet, our culture screams for one to “honor your parents”.
From pastors and parents alike, reminding these children/adults that they “must” honor their parents without understanding, is like adding gasoline to a flame of fire that is already burning deep within their heart.
“For God said, Honor thy father and mother: and, he that speaketh evil of father or mother, let him die the death.” Matthew 15:4 (ASV)
Well, that is one scary passage, and yet a child who manages to escape the “hold” of abuse they were once part of, the fear of death eludes them. Even those children, who grow up in a Christian home, can experience abuse.
When I was growing up in the 60’s & 70’s, many of the kids were going to church, and were taught Christian values, one of which was to honor their parents. In today’s culture, whether a family is Christian or not, the value of honoring ones parents is still an expected response, regardless of how one is treated.
So, how does a child of abuse move on? Honor their parents? And more importantly, honor themselves?
When children are scarred by physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse, they either distance themselves from the abuser(s) or, out of guilt, return to the toxic environment that reignites the pain that burns within their heart. Until they are able to deal with the emotional pain, through forgiveness, and making the choice to become better adults, the act of honoring one’s parents is painful and simply confusing.
A parent who abuses their child (in my opinion) needs help. They need to understand that what they did (or are currently doing) is not acceptable nor is it God honoring. For those who “pooh-pooh” (dismiss) the Bible and its scriptures; the act of abusing a child is not only unacceptable, it is illegal.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, And even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (ASV)
A child who is raised in a home of dysfunction will generally continue the dysfunction and response mechanisms throughout their life, unless they make the choice to end the cycle. In many cases it requires that one distant themselves from the toxic environment in order to heal. This means, that the child is taking the steps to honor themselves while seeking a “safe” culture with people who love and accept them for who they are and the baggage they carry, to which they have chosen to heal from.
During this phase, the child who is healing breaks off all ties (if the parents did not already do this out of self-righteous spite). Many will view this as not honoring their parents. Before one passes judgment, consider first your own life: 1. Did you have a healthy childhood, resulting in a positive relationship with your parents?, or, 2. Did you grow up with dysfunction all around, yet “sucked it up”, just to save face when you are told to honor your parents? Or 3. Have chosen to stay with family, yet after spending time with them, you feel empty and sad, leaving you angry?
Eventually the task of healing begins. It cannot be done on their own, as it requires therapeutic and/or spiritual help. It can take several therapists for a victim to finally find one who is transparent and able to help. You see, textbook therapy doesn’t work for victims, and the reason is that every victim has their own unique story. And yet, the moment a match occurs, healing can begin.
Once the healing cycle starts, forgiveness begins to fill the heart of the victim. They learn that they are not at fault nor responsible for the actions of their parents (or other abuser). The forgiveness process not only opens their heart to forgive the abuser, but also that of themselves.
Victims carry a huge burden of guilt. “What did I do to deserve this?”, “What can I do to prevent this in the future?”, etc. To forgive oneself, for the bitterness that developed as a result of no one reaching out to “save them,” as well as the burden they carried upon their shoulders while not being able to develop healthy relationships, provides an amazing inner peace.
To forgive an abuser, takes faith, and for me it meant letting go and allowing God to be responsible for all that had passed. When the forgiveness is complete, one is able to see the abuser in a public setting without the flight or fight anxiety response.
Healing does not mean that scars and memories of the past have been erased. It means that the person has learned how to let go of the evil that once engulfed their life. It also allows them the ability to confront the wrong doer without any further emotion
With the remaining scars, and although the nightmares have vanished, the memories still exist. Certain situations become triggers for how they respond in the future. In reality, healing is a lifetime experience.
And yet, when it comes to honoring our parents, those who caused a great deal of scarring in our development, it is not about abiding to “expectations” of visits, phone calls, letters from home, etc. It is about accepting the past, learning from it, and moving forward.
In some situations, the child and parent are able to reconcile in where a healthy relationship can begin. Yet, for many, where the parent does not accept their own responsibility, the claim to be honored (in their worldly view) is lost.
God still desires that we, the broken, honor them in love. This can be done by not dwelling on the past, accepting their character, being cordial and kind if/when in the midst of their presence, or if/when called on the phone, and to always speak of them with grace.
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.” 1 John 3:18 (ASV)
Every situation is unique. Some of the wounded can return home, yet others, once they have healed and found what true love and joy is all about, are unable to return. To honor oneself, one takes the opportunity to honor God, by building confidence and developing one’s character, in order to move forward in a healthy relationship(s).
For those who believe that this is a sin, or morally wrong to “ditch” the abusive parents, I have come to the understanding that it is more sinful to tolerate abusive situations, versus walking away and/or keeping one’s distance. Abusive people are toxic. And, when one chooses to heal and rise above the past, they are then able to grow and become a compassionate individual, honoring God along their path.
Choose not to judge those who are unable to “return home”, nor dig into their past to allow your own curiosity the opportunity to make judgment. Instead, honor their words, and choose to love others the way you would want to be loved yourself.
“…and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30 -31 (ASV)
Laura – Blogger, paid Freelance writer
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29 (ASV)