2. Early Abuse or Neglect
It is no grand mystery that parental and family behavior configured our emotional and thought patterns, for better or for worse. In this chapter we will look at how abuse or neglect in our family experience almost always leads to a powerful not good enough feeling.
Abuse vs Neglect
Though we could probably equate abuse and neglect to a degree, for the purposes of this chapter I will hairsplit the two. For the next few moments let us view abuse as active harm (overt verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual aggression) and neglect as passive harm (physical absence, emotional distance, coldness, lack of providing basic needs, subtle control mechanisms, etc.).
When a parent or family member was overtly abusive to us verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually, two impartations were happening simultaneously. On the obvious level, we were being harmed by the actual abuse itself. However, on a deeper level, that abuser was sending us a message about ourselves. That message appeared in our own soul as a question, If I am good enough/worthy enough/beautiful enough/etc., why are they harming me?
Without a healthy third-party voice to answer this question properly, and nullify or mitigate the effects of the abuse, most souls will answer that question in this way: It must mean I am not good enough/worthy enough/beautiful enough/etc.
Similarly, when a parent or important family member was neglectful of us--through physical absence, emotional distance, coldness, lack of providing basic needs, subtle control mechanisms, etc.--two impartations were happening simultaneously. On the obvious level, we were being harmed by the actual neglect itself. However, on a deeper level, that neglector was sending us a message about ourselves. That message appeared in our own soul as a question, If I am good enough/worthy enough/beautiful enough/etc., why are they neglecting me?
Without a healthy third-party voice to answer this question properly, and nullify or mitigate the effects of the neglect, most souls will answer that question in this way: It must mean I am not good enough/worthy enough/beautiful enough/etc.
Two examples that come to mind are eastern family architectures and what I call "Christian mafia families".
Eastern families have a different architecture than western families; they tend to prioritize the collective more than the individual. This is not entirely wrong as long as the individual gets sufficient personalized attention, validation, and empowerment. In many families, however, this does not happen. The collective and its honor become a type of idol and the individual suffers some level of neglect. In some families, terrible measures are taken when the status quo of the family is undermined by an individual member. Direct abuse or vengeance or ostracism is meted out.
Children that grow up in these kinds of families--where the collective is idolized and the individual is minimized or even stamped out--pick up a powerful not good enough feeling. After all, if they were good enough, wouldn't their families have given them greater value? Greater voice? More attention to personal needs and interests? Less punishment to stay in line with the collective?
Mafia-Style Christian Families
Christian mafia families in the West, or so I call them, do something similar, but under the language and systems of Christianity. To varying degrees, an oppressive Christianity is imposed on the family, and like hypercollectivist eastern families, the individual tends to be neglected. As born-again, Bible-believing Christians we know it is the Lord's will for parents to raise their family in a Biblical reality and worldview. However, many families do it incorrectly and neglect or abuse result. Some use "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots" as the centerpiece of that upbringing, creating a legalistic, performance-oriented environment. Some use superfluous church attendance and Christian activities as the centerpiece of that upbringing, essentially trying to crowd out wrong possibilities and entanglements with right possibilities and relationships. Some use cherrypicked and overemphasized Bible verses to idolize the family and its collective identity, using them as slogans and catchphrases and soundbytes that psychically drive the individual to preserve and venerate the collective with extreme loyalty.
These and other heavy-handed Christian parenting tactics use Christianity as a weaponized ethos that neglects the individual, and in some cases, abuses the individual. The personalized attention, validation, and training of each individual child according to his/her bent is minimal or nonexistent.
Children that grow up in these kinds of mafia-style Christian families, where the collective is idolized and the individual is minimized or even stamped out, pick up a powerful not good enough feeling. After all, if they were good enough, wouldn't their families have given them greater value? Greater voice? More attention to personal needs and interests? Less punishment to stay in line with the collective?
I experienced early abuse or neglect. Now what?
This chapter on early abuse or neglect is our next area of exploration on the not good enough feeling. Keep in mind, there are several more areas we will look into. If this chapter hit a nerve center inside you, then it is relevant to your uniquely-configured struggle with this. Let's discuss practical responses.
Contemplate and understand the mechanics of your abuse/neglect experience.
Like any problem, we have to first understand properly our unique abuse/neglect experience to gain the functional insights necessary to heal and reengineer those regions of our soul. That reengineering could be summarized in at least five practical mechanisms. These are not exhaustive, but they are certainly among the most important cornerstones.
Express, cry, grieve, vent, and "vomit" the pain in the presence of the Lord.
If this chapter pertains to you, what is ultimately driving the not good enough feeling is unhealed emotional pain from the abuse/neglect. These broken emotions need to be expressed, cried out, grieved out, vented out, and "vomited" out in the presence of the Lord. 1Peter 5:7 (NIV) says, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. We read, hear, and quote this scripture often, rarely thinking through the depth of its implications. Casting all our inner anxiety on Him means so much more than praying in heavy traffic or praying when your kids are acting insane. All your anxiety means every last bit of it at every level, including broken and dark emotions that come from early abuse or neglect.
For an extensive and detailed Biblical explanation on how to vomit in God's presence, read Healing the Deepest Agony
Confront and forgive the relevant person(s).
When possible and when wise, Scripture commands us to respectfully confront our harmer. This is one healing mechanism in God's Word that is rarely included in the healing process. We are told to forgive, but we are rarely told to address the harmer's harm directly to the harmer. However, this is what Scripture says we are to do, when possible. Listen to the careful wording of Leviticus 19:17 (NIV):
Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
A New Testament equivalent, stated in more general language, would be Ephesians 4:15, where we are told to speak the truth in love. This verse is all-encompassing, from speaking the word of God to answering honestly when your spouse asks for your opinion on an outfit to confronting a harmer. Whatever the situation we are supposed to speak candidly, but lovingly and respectfully. Most people go to one of two extremes, either they are flamethrowers with no filter or teddy bears with no mouth.
People often do not want to confront their harmer because it would disturb the current state of affairs. The problem with this is, if the current state of affairs is built on denial or avoidance it is a false reality, a false peace, an illusion. It is fake. Denial or avoidance does not make you free, understanding and working the truth will make you free, Jesus said. With prayer and sensing the timing of the Spirit, the time will come to candidly address the abuse or neglect you suffered with the individual(s) responsible.
There are some variables to consider that may modify how you go about this. One, the ideal is to address the person in a face-to-face conversation. This may not be possible or wise, though, for several reasons. Two, a phone conversation or handwritten letter would be next in line, again, depending on the variables of who you are dealing with. If the person is more than likely to be explosive or abusive at your words or your presence, a handwritten letter is the best option. An email would be the last resort if a street address is unattainable.
I can assure you, from almost thirty years of personal experiences and professional experiences, that astonishing degrees of healing and empowerment happen when you honestly and respectfully confront a significant harmer in your past or present. An omnisciently wise God knew what He was saying when He inspired Moses to write Leviticus 19:17 and Paul to write Ephesians 4:15.
Addressing the harmer directly is not the endpoint--forgiveness is. Regardless of whether they agree or repent or change or blow up defensively, we are to ultimately forgive them and bless them sincerely. We are not speaking the truth to them so they will change, but so we can be mentally healthy and emotionally free. If they happen to be sensitive and responsive, wonderful! That is simply a sweet dessert.
Forgiveness is too profound of a subject for one or two paragraphs, so I encourage you to read the following article on what it is and what it is not: Forgiveness...Can I Truly Forgive?
Proactively seek out communally-engineered healing and transformation.
We are injured and traumatized in relationships...and we are healed and transformed in relationships. James 5:16 (Young's Literal Translation): Be confessing to one another the trespasses, and be praying for one another, that ye may be healed; very strong is a working supplication of a righteous man. Read also Psalm 101, Proverbs 13:20, Romans 15:14, Ephesians 4:11-16, Colossians 3:16.
I like to call this communally-engineered transformation. There is a degree of change God will give you directly from His presence and Word, but He will not change you entirely on His own. He will also work through helpful, healing relationships in the born-again community. We need to prayerfully and proactively seek these relationships out. Do not expect a unicorn or a perfect person. Do not have unrealistic expectations. Simply pursue and recognize those in the body of Christ you can have a helpful, healing, transformational relationship with, either on a friendship level or a mentorship level.
Correct wrong mentalities derived from the abuse/neglect.
The abuse or neglect not only broke us apart emotionally, but we also learned to think in wrong ways as a side-effect. Our interpretative filter of other people, situations, and life in general gets way off. We hear what is not there and we see what is not there, and, ironically, we do not hear what is really there and we do not see what is really there. This derailment of our logic and interpretive accuracy leads to many wrong choices, troubled relationships, even more pain and confusion, and the perpetuation of the not good enough feeling. Undoing the not good enough feeling will require prayerful metacognition, which means evaluating how you think with the Spirit's help. Wrong thought structures and tendencies have to be identified, attacked with Scripture and prayer, and eventually transformed by the Spirit.
2Corinthians 10:5 (Young's Literal Translation, underline added): Reasonings bringing down, and every high thing lifted up against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of the Christ.
Two Greek words are crucial to this verse, logismos (translated "reasonings" here) and hypsoma (translated "high thing" here). Paul said both of these need to be brought down or "demolished" (NIV). Because of abuse or neglect our logismos, or way of reasoning, developed incorrectly. And, because of abuse or neglect we developed hypsoma, or high things. Hypsoma, however, has a more intricate meaning than simply a high thing. It refers to an elevated defense structure, like a military barrier or rampart. What the Spirit in Paul is more literally saying, then, is that our defense mechanisms must come down too.
Our way of reasoning (logismos) and our defense mechanisms (hypsoma) must both be demolished. Many Christians try to do only the former, changing how they think about themselves, others, situations, life in general. This will slow down the transformation and render it incomplete, because your defense mechanisms will work against or slow down your mind-renewing efforts. The Spirit in Paul said, if you want to undo the not good enough feeling forever you will have to transform both your logismos and hypsoma--your interpretive filter and how you protect yourself at all costs.