The Abusive Family

Imagine a world were we told all the truth and there were no secrets. I am pretty sure none of us would like it , and things would be a lot different than they are now in all of our homes. We all have our “little” family secrets and as well personal secrets that we do our best not to hang out and expose for others to evaluate and declare what is right and wrong about our life.Dr. Larry Crabb, an author I have gotten many helpful thoughts from, calls it Image Management.

Reading this many years ago it struck me how much I did in the public arena to manage my boys in such a way that we looked good as a family.   It was another author I enjoyed, Gary Smalley, who help me exam my reason for discipline.  Discipline should always be done for the benefit of the child, not to impress others looking on. Keeping this principle in mind helped me not worry so much about what others were thinking and focus rather on what the need was at the moment to correct the problem, not impress anyone.

There is a lot of abuse that goes on behind closed doors that many never see.  This is not the kind of thing we should be covering up but because of our expectation of privacy we are able to keep the public eye out of our issues.  Many times people do get a glimpse or more into families with issues , but we aren’t sure what is appropriate or how far we should go to intervene. There is no easy answer to this question and for the most part it is a case by case situation.

Steven R Tracy gives us a few glimpses into a family that is dysfunctional in his Mending the Soul Book. He uses the story from the Bible found in 2 Samuel 13.  He shows from this story of incest what happens in this family.  This was the family of King David a man who God calls “a man after my own heart”. So we learn from this that none of us are above doing deplorable things.

1. The Needs of Family Members Are Expendable The story begins in verse 1 with an introduction of the key players: “Absalom the son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her.” Like a well-crafted Shakespearean tragedy, this story begins by deftly introducing pregnant phrases that will soon turn sinister. The careful reader will quickly feel something is amiss in this family. First of all, Absalom and Amnon are identified as sons of David, but Tamar is simply Absalom’s sister. This is odd, since Tamar is the daughter of King David and Queen Maacah (2 Samuel 3:3). In fact, nowhere in the entire account is Tamar ever referred to as the daughter of David. In abusive families, family members are not equally valued by the parents.

Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1064-1070). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. Reality Is Difficult to Discern We learn two other things about Tamar in this opening verse: she was beautiful, and her brother Amnon loved her. In a healthy family, these would be prescient statements of blessing and happiness. Not so for Tamar. In abusive families, reality is very difficult to discern. Nothing is as it appears. Beauty metastasizes into pain and shame. Brotherly love turns out to be bestial lust. What you thought was the safest place on earth—your own family home—turns out to be the most dangerous.

Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1077-1081). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

3 The Victim is Made Responsible Amnon was specifically said to be frustrated because Tamar was a virgin and it was “hard . . . to do anything to her.” This probably refers to the fact that royal virgins were kept under close guard, so Amnon was not able to have sexual relations with her. Amnon’s “love” was nothing more than an incestuous lust he had fanned into a raging fire. The irony here is that Amnon made himself sick with his own lust for his sister, but Amnon, Jonadab, and David (with varying degrees of knowledge) all placed the responsibility on Tamar to heal Amnon’s self-induced sickness. In abusive families, the victim is made responsible for solving needs—even evil needs—they didn’t create and could never legitimately satisfy.

Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1086-1091). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

4. Appearances are Deceptive. The family’s shiny exterior belies a dark inner reality. “Jonadab” means “the LORD is generous.” Sadly, giving your cousin a clever scheme to help him rape his sister hardly shows the generosity of God. The scheme itself also epitomizes the deceptive appearance of abusive families. On the face, it appeared that Tamar was simply being asked to provide physical sustenance (food) and comfort for her sick brother. In reality, her kindness and trust would be skillfully manipulated to shatter her physical safety and to strip her of emotional comfort for the rest of her life.

Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1109-1113). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

5. The Truth Is Ignored  Amnon followed his cousin’s advice perfectly. He feigned illness to get David to send Tamar to feed him bread cakes. David fully cooperated with Amnon’s fiendish plan, ordering Tamar to go to Amnon’s house and prepare him food. If this was all the information we had regarding David’s response to Tamar, we might conclude he had been so thoroughly deceived that he bore little responsibility for the violation of Tamar. David’s pattern of behavior toward his children shows otherwise. In fact, David demonstrates another trait of abusive families: Vulnerable family members are not protected because no one really wants to know the truth. The truth is ignored. In other words, maintaining one’s own emotional well-being is more important than admitting that dangerous family problems exist.

Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1127-1134). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Steven Tracy goes on to explore other traits of abusive families in his Conclusion:

Family abusers use force to get their sordid way.

There is no straightforward healthy communication, and many of the verbal messages are          contradictory and confusing.

The victim’s response is futile.

Power is abused to exploit.

Abusive families are emotionally unstable.

The victims are shamed, blamed, and demeaned.

Members are isolated and lack intimacy.

A strict code of silence is enacted.

Abusive families deny and distort proper healthy emotions.

Tracy, Steven R. (2009-05-26). Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Kindle Locations 1386-1397). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

None of this is a very pretty picture so none of us would like the world to see our dirty laundry.  The sad fact remains that so much abuse is done behind these “closed doors”. The scares that come with such a home environment go on to the next home established when this kind of dysfunction is over looked or never understood for what it really is.

I know I had some very strange thinking when we started our home and family and I am thankful I was very open to learn from men like Dr. James Dobson, Gary Smalley, Dr. Larry Crabb and most important from the Bible and those who patiently taught me from God’s word.  It was that hunger to change things that helped me seek out a different mode of operation.

This kind of abuse is not isolated to families.  Anytime someone has the power over another person because of age, authority, physical strength, or finances, this kind of abuse can be found.  We have all seen examples of this in of all places, religious settings, in schools, care centers for the elderly or disabled.  You can go on to other area of life where we see this happen. In recent days I have been made aware of two stories of what can be called spiritual abuse.  I will go into this a little further in my next blog.

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