3 Reasons Why: Suicide

“Dear Mom and Dad,

I always feel sad, but I hide it. I’m so tired of going through each day. Is this normal for a 16- year old? Or is there something wrong with me?

Why don’t I ever feel the love you give me?

I’m angry- at you, myself, and the world. Why does life have to be this way? I can’t hope for a better tomorrow or think of the future. I don’t want you to be disappointed by all the secrets I keep from you.

I’m scared I’ll do something I regret. I want to feel better.

~ Your son Luke

I wish I had written that letter, but I wrote a different one instead.

I attempted suicide.

By crashing our van into the first object I saw… a passing car.

Head on. At 60 mph. No seat belt. The van rolled.

I should have died. But I was unharmed. The other driver was injured but survived…

I am healing now. Life can be good again.

Because you are loved and able to love.

Your life is precious. You count.

You can’t be erased.

~ Luke D. Maxwell (www.ucantbeerased.com)

According to https://axis.org/ :  “The number of teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and actions has doubled over the last decade. Now, with shows like “13 Reasons Why”, the suicidal teenager has taken center stage in our culture.” [see Conversation Starter Kits on Axis website]

Suicide is a topic that leaves us speechless.

We feel powerless… confused… and perhaps shame in being reminded of our own fear of death or struggles with depression.

In so many ways we spend our lives in numbing activities as a means to escape reality… and especially the reality of death.

Suicide screams in our face, a reality that we can no longer ignore: Pain in this life is REAL and Death is REAL.

I want to suggest 3 topics that may be correlated to suicide and are rarely discussed and perhaps deserve more thought and attention.

(This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but a list of perhaps less-talked about areas.)

  • Suicide and Spiritual Warfare
  • Suicide and Sexual Abuse
  • Suicide and Passive Aggressive Anger.

Spiritual Warfare

Ray Comfort describes an encounter in his autobiographical book, “Out of the Comfort Zone:” .

“I had been preaching in the Square in New Zealand. Two girls approached me and said they wanted to talk about something spiritual. I asked if it was about demons. Surprised, they said that it was. One of the girls was having continual blackouts. For no apparent reason, she would black out at various times of the day. The blackouts became so frequent that the girls suspected something spiritual was involved… Besides the blackouts, she was having suicidal thoughts… [I] found her crawling on her hands and knees, groaning, screaming, and making animal-like noises… I commanded the spirit to manifest and name itself, so that i would know how to pray.

“No, no!” it screamed.

I persisted. It shrieked, “Hate, Hate!”

I named the spirit of hate and commanded it to leave. … Another spirit identified itself as “Suicide.”

I said, “Those are personalities- what is your name?”  “Soal,” it screamed.  “

“How long have you been in this person?” … “Twelve years.” …”How did you gain access?” …”Easily!

[I’d encourage you to read the rest of the account in the book!]

I believe that Evil is involved whenever there are thoughts or actions toward suicide. Scripture names Evil as the Liar and Accuser: “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John8:55). It may not be as dramatic as demon possession, but I believe Evil is always present in influence or suggestion to the person’s mind. The beliefs of shame, hopelessness, and worthlessness that cause a person such deep torment and pain that they desire to cause their own death are lies from Evil and Darkness itself.

He {Satan} was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth” (John 8:44)

“To put it in a word, Satan is blood-thirsty. Christ came into the world that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Satan comes that he might destroy life wherever he can and in the end make it eternally miserable.” ~ John Piper “Satan’s 10 Strategies”

Exit: The Appeal of Suicide

Recently Ray Comfort released a documentary, “Exit: The Appeal of Suicide” : {http://www.theexitmovie.com/}

In the documentary he demonstrates HOW to fight the spiritual battle against suicide: Fight Evil and Lies with Truth and Love.

Ray highlights a scene in the classic film Pilgrim’s Progress, in which “Despair” is a large menacing giant, who locks the main character (Christian) into “Doubting Castle.” As he’s sitting in the dungeon, Christian realizes he has the key in his own pocket! The “key” is the Promise of God: “For the wages of sin is Death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” ~ Romans 6:23

We were created for LIFE; each of us has a God-given will to live. Because of the conflict between our desire for life and the looming reality of death, we are a prisoner to the fear of death our whole lives (Hebrews 2:15). This fear leads to despair, and depression… a sense of futility… and hopelessness.

Therefore the solution is HOPE that is not a mere wish, but a true anchor to our souls. Faith that is founded on the truth of Jesus will result in “joy and peace in believing.” (Romans 15:13)

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” ~ John 11:25

 

Sexual Abuse

The book, “Treating the Adult Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse: A Psychoanalytic Perspective”, contains a table listing the symptoms of sexual abuse. A major category seen in both adolescents and adults is listed as: “Suicidal Ideation and Suicide Attempts.” (pg. 38)

The recent Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, highlights the involvement of sexual harm in leading character Hannah’s suicide.

In the documentary Exit: The Appeal of Suicide, one girl, when asked the reason for her depression and thoughts of suicide, answered, “I was raped…”

While it is difficult to contain in words the damage done to a life through sexual harm, Dr. Dan Allender has summarized it in this way (through his Wounded Heart conference material): there is the ruin of faith through betrayal, there is the stealing of hope through powerlessness, and the ruin of love through darkening the soil of desire. For the victim there is the echo of darkness in all pleasure, a hatred of joy, relief through self-contempt and other-centered contempt.

Clearly this is an area with many compounding factors. I’d encourage *everyone* to read “The Wounded Heart” and “Healing the Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender. (Especially everyone in a ministry leadership role, given the epidemic of sexual harm in our country, I think it’s irresponsible for ministry leaders to be unaware and uneducated in this area)

In “Healing the Wounded Heart”, Dr. Allender discusses “covert sexual abuse”, which broadens our general understanding of abuse to include more subtle, but yet still very damaging, forms: 1) verbal abuse: inappropriate sexual talking, solicitations, coarse jesting, sexual name calling; 2)psychological abuse– triangular relationships, use of a child as a surrogate spouse, over-dependency on a child, and inappropriate role expectations. These can all lead to an underlying sense of anger that a child doesn’t even know where it’s coming from, yet boils over into a desperate despondency and desire for self-harm, which brings us to the idea of “passive aggressive anger.”

Passive Aggressive Anger

Dr. Ross Campbell, M.D discusses passive aggressive anger at length in his book, “How to Really Love Your Angry Child.

Dr. Campbell writes:

“We can define PA behavior, but recognizing it is another matter entirely. Upon learning about this brand of behavior… there’s a tendency to label every act of childish misbehavior as passive-aggression, but that’s a mistake… we can begin for watching out for three distinctives:

1) irrational and illogical… driven by the subconscious mind where logic isn’t the prime mover. The subconscious is driven by feelings, impressions, and powerful emotions;

2) PA’s purpose is primarily to upset the parents or other authority figures;

3) Children ultimately hurt themselves the most by PA behavior… are their own greatest victims… serious kinds of PA behavior through drugs, alcohol… or even suicide, the ultimate passive-aggressive behavior.

In Dr. Campbell’s original book that covers more broad and basic topics, “How to really Love your Child,” he discusses the Scripture verse: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger…” (Colossians 3:21) I see this as an indication that any time parents have an angry child on their hands, including a child with PA behavior, we need to first evaluate ourselves, and our parenting. Over and over again I come across parents that want to talk about “their child’s behavior issues” and yet it is so clear that often our “child’s issue” has it’s primary root in *our issues*.

We are each so naturally blind to our own issues, tragically unself-aware, predisposed to think of ourselves more highly then we ought (as Scripture points out!). This is why God has given us the “Body” of Christ, and the reason why we “grow together” into Christ= we need others to see in us what we are blind to.

We also need to grow in our understanding of ways that we as parents can unwittingly bring harm into our children’s hearts and lives. A broader definition of harm will include psychological means of harm: triangular relationships, use of a child as a surrogate spouse, over-dependency on a child and inappropriate role expectations. It will also include an understanding of attachment development for infants and the damage that is done through neglect: lack of eye contact, lack of touch, lack of delight toward the child or a parent having a “still face” which results in a lack of mirroring that an infant needs to develop a sense of self.

{Watch “The Still Face Experiment with Dr. Edward Tronick : https://youtu.be/apzXGEbZht0  }

I have several resource suggestions for parents who have a curiosity about themselves and their children, and desiring to learn! While you may not have children who are at risk of suicidal ideation, each our children WILL encounter struggles in life and their own journeys of brokenness, and of course as parents, we want to do all we can to increase their resilience and trajectory of wholeness. Below are some ideas!

1) Don’t try to do life alone! God designed us to *NEED* community. God didn’t design us to do life, marriage or parenting alone. We need the input of wise and responsible people in order to see areas of brokenness that we will never see on our own. We have made it our family culture from the very beginning that we involve Christian professionals in our lives (in terms of individual counseling, marriage counseling, and parenting). Please don’t make the mistake of sending your child off to counseling to deal with “his or her issues.” His/Her issues are FAMILY issues and the whole family needs growth and healing.

2) Two book suggestions: “How to Really Love Your Child” by Ross Campbell; and “How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting” by Milan Yerkovich (this one looks at insecure attachment styles of parents (Pleaser, Avoider, Vascillator, Controller and Victim) and how they affect children.

3) Look into a therapist who does “Theraplay.” The therapist will videotape your interactions with your child during a series of activities and then do an assessment in 4 areas: Nurture, Attunement, Challenge, and Structure. However unnerving and humbling this is, I promise, it will be worth reading 20 parenting books with what you will learn about yourself and your child!!

Conclusion

Spiritual, trauma, and anger issues may all weave together in a complex web for a person attempting suicide. We must take the time and effort to look at the whole and ask yourself, “What keeps me from exploring any one of the above areas on behalf of the person I love or on behalf of myself?”

 

 

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Do you love me? : Every child’s question

Almost a year ago, our family was in a state of desperation. The arrival of our sweetest little bundle of joy, Judah, had apparently upset the balance of our happy home. Four months later, Ryan and I were sleep deprived and Jeremiah was having daily temper tantrums. (I started writing this when Jeremiah was still 4; He is now 5)

I knew something HAD to change after Jeremiah punched Ryan in the face and stomped on my IPad.

After I recovered from my initial shock and disbelief, I geared myself up and flew into action. I spoke with trusted people and asked others for prayer.

Eventually, I remembered a book that a few CHA moms had been raving about… “How to Really Love your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. When I looked it up on Amazon, I realized THIS was the book that Park Community Church had gifted to us at Jeremiah’s baby dedication!!

And then sheepishly I also remembered I actually had tossed the book aside and thinking, “Why would I ever need this?? I know how to love my child!”

Oh the pride of a new parent!

Parenting has a way of humbling the most stubborn pride.

The truth is: I need this book (probably to re-read it often!); we all need this book.

While I strongly encourage you to read this book (whether or not you have children), I will share the journey God lead me on through this book. And I do believe this book was an answer to prayer and a God-send. It is true that within a week of reading this book, Jeremiah’s temper tantrums not only stopped, but he was answering us, “Yes, Mom”, and “Yes, Dad”, all on his own! It felt like a miracle! I can’t even describe the relief it brought my heart to have peace and joy return to our home!

  1. The Wrong Question

First, I realized I had been asking the wrong question: “How can I correct Jeremiah’s behavior?”

I’ll admit I was sick and tired of the tantrums. I simply wanted them to stop. And I was angry. I was fed up and ticked off about the disruption in our home. I felt like I was being robbed of peaceful mornings and enjoyable dinners.

Dr. Campbell writes (p. 104): “The tendency is for parents to ask, “What can I do to correct this child’s behavior? Unfortunately, all too often this question leads initially to punishment. It is then difficult to consider the real needs of children, and we may end up spanking or sending children off to their rooms. Children will not feel loved if we approach handling misbehavior this way.

“We should always begin by asking ourselves, “What does this child need?” 

In other words, where is there a breakdown in the experience of love? Has the child been receiving loving eye contact, loving touch, focused attention and loving instruction?

The basic tenant of Dr. Campbell’s book is that children are constantly asking, “Do you love me?”

They don’t ask directly with words, but instead with their behavior. The more rebellious and disruptive their behavior is, the more desperate the question: “Do You Love Me?”

  1. The Essential Needs of a Child

Dr. Campbell opens the book with the story of “Tommy”, a 14 year old who had been a “good kid” and whose parents are now bewildered by the troubled road he’s traveling. Tommy’s parents feel like they’ve loved him and given their best into raising him the right way. However, when Dr. Campbell talks to the boy one –on-one, he finds that Tommy’s experience is quite different. He does not experience the love of his parents, and doesn’t feel like they’re concerned about him either.

“Tom Smith’s parents do love him deeply. They have done their best in rearing him, but something is missing. Did you notice what it was? No, not love; his parents do love him. The basic problem is that Tom does not feel loved… Like most parents they believed they were meeting Tom’s needs: food, shelter, clothes, education, guidance, etc. In the process of meeting all those needs, they overlooked his need for love- unconditional love. Although love is within the heart of almost all parents, the challenge is to convey this love.”

The thought shattered my anger and broke my heart: When Jeremiah was having a temper tantrum he was actually pleading with me, “Do you love me??”

The hard truth is that we often unwittingly answer with a “no” through OUR behavior…. And consequently our children feel unloved.

In his book, Dr. Campbell has a chapter on each of 4 essentials children need from their parents in order to experience love: 1) Eye contact; 2) Physical Touch; 3) Focused Attention, and 4) Loving Discipline or guidance.

Once I had the insight that Jeremiah’s outbursts were an understandable reaction of anger to his experience of feeling unloved, I had to determine where the gaps were. How had I changed since Judah was born?

I realized that eye contact had taken a sharp decline and so had focused attention. I was letting him watch quite a bit of TV or movies while I was caring for Judah.

Dr. Campbell defines focused attention as “giving a child full, undivided attention in such a way that the child feels without doubt completely loved; that the child is valuable enough in his or her own right to warrant the parent’s undistracted watchfulness, appreciation, and uncompromising regard. In short, focused attention makes a child feel like the most important person in the world in his or her parents’ eyes.” (pg 57)

He goes on to give the example of the priority that Jesus gave to children: “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and [He] said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; … for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’… And He took them in his arms and began to bless them, laying His hands upon them,” (Mark 10:13-16, NASB)

  1. Hollow Substitutes for Real Love

Dr. Campbell says that in his experience, “focused attention is the most demanding need a child has, because we parents have extreme difficulty in recognizing it, much less fulfilling it. We do not recognize this particular need for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that other things we do for a child seem to suffice. For example, special favors (ice cream or candy), gifts and granting unusual requests seem to substitute for focused attention at the time. These kindnesses are good, but it is a serious mistake to use them as a stand-in for genuine focused attention… Focused attention is not something that is nice to give children only if time permits; it is a critical need each child has. How children view themselves and how they are accepted by their world is determined by the way in which this need is met. Without focused attention, a child experiences increased anxiety… He or she is consequently less secure and is impaired in emotional and psychological growth. Such a child can be identified in the nursery or classroom.”

  1. We must answer with our Presence

Dr. Campbell asks hard questions of parents in his book:

“What are the priorities in your life? Where does your child fit in? Does your child take first priority? Second? Third? Fourth? You must determine this! … No one else can do this for you. A spouse cannot determine your child’s priority in your life… Only you can do this. So what is it fellow parent? What and who gets priority in your life? Job? Church? Spouse? House? Hobby? Children? Television? Social life? Career?”

As I read these words, I recalled that after Judah was born I had bought Jeremiah new toys and a batman shirt… I would let him watch batman shows on TV… or how I had continually pass Jeremiah off to Ryan while I cared for Judah. I was dismayed as I evaluated the sum picture.

Even though I am a stay at home mom, I realized that with the little time I had when I wasn’t caring for a newborn baby, I was not actually making Jeremiah a priority. I was exercising to lose weight. I was cooking healthy meals. I was organizing our home. All good things. But I wasn’t face to face with Jeremiah, simply enjoying his presence with me.

I decided to make changes… immediately. In the chapter on focused attention, Dr. Campbell instructs that “Careful Planning Pays Off.” I considered and planned how I could rework my days and weeks to have one-on-one time with Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah loves to bake or work with food, loves his Boys Life and Ranger Rick magazines, and doing our Bible devotional book. So I made sure they were available and ready for when Judah was napping or content with tummy time. Instead of seizing this time to exercise or clean, I would seize these moments for Jeremiah.

  1. God is the ONLY Perfect Parent

The idea that your child might not feel and actually experience your love may cause an initial guttural reaction of defensiveness… “Of course my child knows that I love him (or her)! I tell him that I love him every day!”

We must realize that our *unspoken* language actually speaks louder than our words. Words are meaningless if we do not show love FIRST by our presence.

Think this through with me: how does a child learn the meaning of language? Of a word? It is by an embodied experience of the word… such as “hot” or “cold. They must feel it with their bodies to know the meaning of the word. Similarly, how does a child even come to understand the meaning of the word “love”? It is not through hearing the words “I love you” only… but through delighted eye contact, gentle touches and holding, and it is through the time spent enjoying each other.

This is the model given to us by God- the Father of His people. God shows love for his children time and time again *through his Presence*.  His very purpose in the creation of mankind was for intimate fellowship with them. Before the entrance of Evil, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day… enjoying each other’s presence. And now God is working all of history toward the supreme goal of restoring His intimate presence with us… The highest desire of God’s heart is to be *with us*.

It was this desire that lead him to come to earth as a Man (equally God and equally man) to reconcile mankind to Himself. As the God-man he became “Emmanuel” meaning “God with us.”  And as Emmanuel, He could fully empathize with us (Hebrews 5:2). To empathize is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)  This is empathy: what you see and hear and feel in your body reverberates in mine. It is to see another fully; to see with body, emotions and mind.

How can this happen between two people without undistracted, face-to-face, eye-to-eye presence? This is essential to love. Sadly, I fear that many people have never experienced this… instead only a hollow, empty shell of what we call “love.”  Because we can never give away what we haven’t received.

The good news is that regardless of the failings of our earthly father and mother, God always stands with his arms open for the prodigal child, wanting to be our Perfect Parent. We can receive His perfect love, and His Presence.

God receives his first personal name in the Bible by a woman who has been abused and traumatized… she runs away, isolated… only to find she is not alone. God meets her and says: “I see you.” … Therefore, the woman names Him: “The God who sees”; which is “El Roi.”  (Genesis 16:13)

Through receiving the perfect love of “El Roi” in more fullness day by day, we can in turn continually grow in loving others including our children.

We must meet our children with our full presence and see them with the eyes of our heart and soul.  Yet, you cannot give away what you have not received. Therefore, go to God… continually. Each day we must make the journey from being “elder brother” to become the “prodigal son”… Is it ONLY the prodigal child that can *receive* the Father’s unconditional love (the only TRUE unconditional love in the world).

(for more on the Prodigal Son: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/dangerous-waters/ )

(for more on Face to Face with God: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/a-slap-in-the-face/ )

6. Know Your Own Story: Personal road blocks to Love

Have you ever seen the “self-awareness” grid? It’s called the Johari Window. (click below)

johariwindowmodeldiagram

I still remember my bewildered feeling when my first counselor, Cyndi Mesmer, showed me this diagram. It was frightening to realize there were things about me that others could see that I couldn’t see. The point is we need to be open to others in order to grow. Without their feedback we will never enlarge the “open and free” window.

Part of this willingness to receive feedback is the humility to admit that we don’t love our children perfectly. There is room to grow.

The journey goes like this:

  1. We realize that we don’t love our children perfectly. We have road blocks.
  2. We consider our particular road blocks- do you struggle with focused attention? With eye contact? With physical touch? or with loving discipline? (discussed more in the book than in this blog post)
  3. Consider how these roadblocks fit into your childhood story? How did your parents give (or not give) these essential love ingredients?
  4. Seek healing and growth by bringing these struggles into relationship- with a counselor, your spouse, and even your children. Most importantly, bring your struggles to Jesus- ask Him for insight, healing, and growth.

For Mother’s Day this year I asked Jeremiah for feedback. I asked, “What makes Mommy a good mommy?” Jeremiah said, “You give hugs and kisses.” I asked further, “Do I give enough hugs, or do I need to do it more?”  He replied, “You need to do it more.”

I was glad I asked! I never would have considered myself to be a parent that struggled with physical contact… never in a million years!! But in Jeremiah’s experience he needed more.

A wonderful resource for this journey is the “How We Love” book series by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. As professional counselors, they look attachment styles that they call “love imprints.” We all have “love wounds” from our primary relationships that cause us to give and receive love out of insecurity. The five types they look at are “Avoiders”; “Pleasers”; “Vascilators”; “Controllers” and “Victims.”

In their book “How we Love Our Kids” they look at how a parent’s love style impacts their children. For example, how does a child experience a parent who is a “Pleaser” or an “Avoider”?  They also look at children: How does a child become a “Vascilator” or a “Controller?

Perhaps this will be my next book review!

 

The truth about triangulation

“The Story of Joseph is YOUR story.” ~ DA

 

There is always a staggering toll initially for telling the truth, especially about family

Every parent needs to be studied. Every marriage must be truthfully pondered. One’s role among siblings needs to be comprehended. This is not being critical; it is studying the landscape to make one’s way through the dark woods of past harm. We are formed in the midst of the crucible of attachment and the tensions of our family of origin. We can’t even begin to understand our character until we better understand the role we played in relationship to every member of our immediate family.

This will unquestionably bring up stories of harm…

The goal is not to tell our stories to get over them, or even to gain insight. Instead, we must enter the stories for the sake of grief, anger and forgiveness. Grief opens the heart to receive comfort. Anger moves the heart to stand against injustice. Forgiveness frees the heart from resentment and the accusations of evil.” ~ Healing the Wounded Heart, pg 224 DA

This is the first blog in a series about how children can be harmed within families. This blog is about the concept of triangulation within a family- what it is and the harm it does.

God designed marriage to be an exclusive relationship, of highest priority and loyalty between a husband and wife, secondary only to their relationship with Him. In fact, the marriage relationship is meant to be an allegory, a living picture, of our relationship with God (see Ephesians 5, Song of Solomon, Hosea, Ezekiel 16, among more!).

There is to be a “leaving” of all others, not just in a sense of location- changing residence, but leaving emotionally, spiritually, and in the sense of loyalty. And then a “cleaving” to the spouse above all others in these same areas.

This reality of mutual giving and receiving of love can be weighed in the question- How much delight does the wife have for her husband? and he for her? Do their eyes light up for each other, and something deep in their soul says “Yes!!” for the other? And secondarily, how much honor is there between husband and wife?

The negative form of assessment might be, instead of this lighting up for the other is there a groan, a rolling of your eyes for the other?

John Gottman, phD studied couples and marriages and found rolling eyes highly predictive of divorce, *because* it is a sign of contempt for the other. (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman)

This assessment is important, because it is here, in this breakdown of love- of honor and delight- there forms a fissure in a marriage.

Whenever there is a fissure in a marriage there will be triangulation with the children in the family. The unmet needs of each parent to delight in another and receive delight don’t just disappear. When those needs are not being met by the spouse, there is a vacuum that MUST and WILL be filled. The desires of the heart will inevitably be redirected, often towards a “chosen” child, resulting in an emotional affair. We use language that makes it palatable and call this the “favorite” child syndrome.

Reread the story of Joseph- see the fissure in his parent’s marriage, how Joseph was the “chosen” of his brothers, the envy, and sabotage… the suffering Joseph endured. And when he said, (Genesis 50:20) “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” He’s talking about FAMILY, not some outside source of evil, but his own family meant him harm!

Here’s the typical triangulation scenario in our day: For whatever reason, distance comes into a marriage between husband and wife. They may still keep proper appearances, but all desire, delight, and true heart to heart intimacy is gone.

The shift of the woman’s heart can be seen in her eyes. While there is an eye-roll or a groan toward the father, the mother’s eyes light up for her son and she has a smile for him that she has never had for her husband. Her husband is not oblivious to this, he knows that her heart has been given to this child in a way that she has not given it to him. What then is human nature? The husband will be filled with envy toward the son. We may call his harsh treatment, cynicism, criticism, and mockery toward the boy “tough love” or laugh it off as “all in good fun”, but in reality it is sabotage and revenge toward his rival- the “surrogate husband” of his wife.

Of course it goes both ways… the husband chooses his “favored” child as well. (either sex, but often a daughter). The same scenario plays out: sabotage from the envious mother, often in the most subtle of ways… a comment about the daughter’s weight, or clothing that “is only meant to help” of course… or can manifest in emotional neglect- lack of protection or guidance that an adolescent girl would need.

Then as well, the son will feel that his sister has a special relationship with the father while at the same time he feels the father’s disdain. Human nature would incite jealousy in his heart toward his sister. And what does he do? Well, he also knows the envy in his mom’s heart- they share this in common. He colludes with her in sabotage of the daughter. He is delighted in handing over his sister to his mother on a silver plater. What does this mean? Anything that will increase the daughter’s shame, alienation, and contempt from the mother.

In his podcast, Dan has said, “When you engage triangulation, you are engaging the Kingdom of Darkness. When you begin to name these dynamics, and stand against it, all Hell will break loose- literally.”

Most families have at least two triangles. It’s so common that we consider it normal. A daughter is described as a “Daddy’s Girl” or a son “Momma’s Boy”… there’s the jokes (and realities) about intrusive mother in laws. Why is that a cultural expectation? Because *often* a mother will turn to her son to meet her emotional needs when her husband is emotionally avoidant or physically absent (workaholic or divorce for example). And then what happens when her son grows up and marries? The new woman isn’t simply her son’s new wife… she is her rival.

And what is the damage done to the “chosen” child?

To be the chosen one is to be the object of a parent’s delight; it is also to feel the shame of arousal, desire, fear, and disgustnone of which can be felt for long without revealing the truth, so it must be wedged into a crack of consciousness and then covered over. The animosity in the family needs to be ignored or explained, so the real issue is obscured and fault is felt as some flaw in the self. Needless to say, the more subtle, crazy-making, shame-inducing, blame-avoiding the harm, the more free Evil is to sow seeds that are actually more difficult to address, at times, than overt abuse.” ~ Healing the Wounded Heart, DA

The damage done can be legion and varied just as the triangulation will be unique in how it plays out in each family culture. The harm can be strictly emotional, but can also involve direct or covert physical and sexual abuse. Even though emotional abuse may seem lesser, each can have a trail of physical effects on a person’s life: chronic depression, anxiety issues and disorders, sexual promiscuity or involvement with abusive partners, self-harm in various addictions or chronic physical ailments such as fibromyalgia. (see book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk)

For more information, see Dan Allender’s new book, Healing the Wounded Heart. There is a chapter called, “The Damage of Covert Abuse.” He outlines 4 types of triangulation and describes the aftereffects:

There are four forms of interaction that are most common for generating emotional incest: critical and/or demeaning, dependent and/or fragile, sensual and/or sexualizing, and infantilizing and/or hyperprotection.”

Listening to our children

RECAP:

The last post covered the reality that we do (mostly unwittingly) harm our own children. I emphasized the responsibility of knowing your own story and woundedness so you can begin to see where you are living out of brokenness that will impact your children. And then secondly, how we really do need the wisdom and insight from others to point us to see truths about ourselves that we truly are powerless to see on our own.

LISTENING TO OUR CHILDREN:

When it comes to the reality of harming our children, there is a second responsibility we as parents have: *Listening to our children*.  If you are thinking “okay, I got that one!”, let me suggest that it’s not as easy as it sounds!  Sure, we can listen to our children as they talk about school, or friends, or even being bullied on the bus… being involved makes us feel like “good parents”!  But what if your child is telling you: “Your anxiety (or anger) consumes our home. I often feel like it’s swallowing up my whole childhood. I don’t feel safe and happy at home.” 

Most families have an unspoken code (that children pick up on even before language develops), that such honesty and truth is unacceptable… They know that with such truth their parents would become completely unglued, and the whole family system would collapse. Since children depend on their caregivers for survival, they would rather loose their voice and keep their family intact.

If you want a family culture where your children can freely speak their thoughts and feelings, and be seen and heard (not just when it makes you feel good, but ALSO when you feel like you might actually become unglued!) it will take an immense amount of intention (and probably outside support!!)

Your children will start by observing your communication, honesty, and ability to repair in your marriages. Is that a scary thought? ;o)  If they see that “negative” thoughts and feelings are met with defensive attack  (instead of listening curiosity) they will assume that their thoughts and feelings will be met with the same.

Curiousity is a key concept here. *Listen with curiousity*  If you child ventures out to share a negative emotion (in any context), for example, they express anxiety about the families finances, if you immediately try to take away their anxiety and say “Oh honey, you don’t need to feel anxious, that’s for mom and dad to take care of… blah blah blah”, the child won’t feel heard, or validated, or safe in sharing. A *curious* response could be as simple as, “I’m so glad you shared with me that you feel that way, tell me more about that feeling. When does that feeling come over you? Where do you feel that anxiety in your body?”

This is a resource that Ryan and I really enjoy using: “Comfort Circle for the Listener”

https://www.howwelove.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ComfortCircleGuideForTheListener.pdf

NEXT post, I’ll get to categories of actually how we harm our children.

 

 

What about harming our own children?

After my last post, I realized that the material immediately begs this question- as we examine and come to understand the harm and brokenness in our families of origin that has shaped our own stories, what about our own children?  If you are brave enough to articulate the question- “How have I, or am I currently harming my own children? … Because just as my parents were not “pre-fall Adam and Eve”, neither are my husband and I!”

Ryan and I were fortunate to have a wise premarital counselor who told us: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parents.”

I think that gave both of us a huge feeling of freedom as we set out in our young family. It was kind of like permission from the beginning to fail. We simply accepted brokenness as part of the picture, and realized that we weren’t going to build our lives around a facade…  We didn’t have to waste years of frustrated parenting efforts to be “perfect parents”… Instead we built a family culture of *reality, honesty, humility, repentance and forgiveness.”

So if you never had the benefit as we did of our wise counselor, I’m telling you now: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parent.”

If you take this to heart, you may think- okay, then what next? start a savings account for my child’s future counseling?  (Actually, that IS a good idea- Dan Allender and his wife actually DID just that! *EVERYONE* needs counseling… only the brave and honest actually get it. As Ryan loves to say, “The people who say they don’t need it, are the really scary ones, and actually need it the most.)

I believe that given this premise, it is our responsibility to know our own stories, and to know our own woundedness. You will either parent out of your woundedness or out of wisdom… the only way to swing the balance (our woundedness will *never* be completely out of the picture) is to be growing in awareness… God designed us so radically for relationship, community and intimacy that we *CANNOT* grow on our own… we are dependent on others to grow in truth and faith. (supporting verses Ephesians 2:21, 4:16; Colossians 2:19; many in Proverbs)

The problem is… that *shame* and *pride* cause us to hide the broken and wounded parts of our hearts.  When we isolate our marriages and the reality of our family dynamics, insulating from any outside input or wisdom, Evil is bound to creep in, take root, and flourish.

Isaiah 30 speaks of our natural inclination to live in a false reality- either by distraction (*Social MEDIA*), dissociation (TV! Video games), addictions (PORN ), *Busyness* :

Isaiah says that these people, whom we are *just like* say: “speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions.” (30:10) Like them, we don’t want to face the truth of sin and evil  working in our families- that we grew up in, or that we are raising.

But verse 15, gives us the source of *HOPE* and *JOY* in the midst of painful reality:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;

In coming to the Lord and each other in honesty and repentance there is healing, hope and joy- as this passage says- **REST**. Otherwise, if you keep covering up, you will always be running, *fleeing*… anxious, and exhausted, and still feeling so weighed down with guilt.  Is that what you want??  Maybe the pain of truth is worth it because at the end there is rest, quietness, trust… and the Lord Himself.

In my next post, I’ll get into some categories or starting places to look into your stories and how they are lived out in your communities and families.