See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
–1 John 3:1
In this day and age, far too many people are forced to go through life without the love and protection that parents are meant to provide. Though there are infinitely many ways in which parents can completely fail to parent, one thing is for sure: broken relationships lead to brokenness.
Whether the issue is divorce, abuse, or just plain selfishness, the imperfections of parents can leave scars that are more than skin-deep. And the sad part of it is that many parents realize that their shortcomings are hurting their child, yet they have no idea what to do about it.
I was adopted when I was 5 months old from South Korea because my biological mom couldn’t afford to take care of me. She was very young at the time and a single mom in South Korea was pretty much a guarantee for poverty because of the overwhelming negative stigma attached with single moms.
My adoptive family was loving and supportive but my adoptive mom divorced twice with all 3 relationships ending in affairs. I have no doubt that because these things took place at such critical ages of development (ages 4 and 12) it compounded the problems. In fact, looking back I now know that the only way I was able to cope with the events was to suppress my emotions, including the pain and sadness I felt at the time.
The effects of those events are just as real today as they were back then except I’m better able to understand them. I have severe anxiety including panic attacks in certain situations, social anxiety, depression, I find it difficult to laugh without crying at the same time and in general have a hard time expressing any emotion, I have difficulty trusting people, I’m a perfectionist and suffer from low self-esteem which results in alternative coping mechanisms that are harmful.
All of these things affected me in school and in my work but I was so good at ‘faking it’ that no one knew, not even my adoptive parents to this day.
I want to briefly mention that this isn’t meant to be a pity story or a laundry list of blaming my parents for all of these things. Instead, I want to use my story to show how a lot of times the negative mental effects that are influenced by similar events can go unnoticed.
I believe its very important that parents do a few things that I know would have helped me during the process both during and after the events took place.
1) Communicate with your children about what is happening, how it may affect them individually as well as the entire family, and how your decision does not change how you love or feel towards them.
2) Provide a good support system that will help buffer the effects as best as possible, be involved in your child’s life, and recognize and attend to any warning signs early on. For example, my mom did a great job when we moved and I had to attend a new school. I was terrified of going but she met with my teachers and tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
3) Apologize at some point. Of course, you’re not perfect and as a parent you’ve made mistakes. However, no matter how high the barriers are between your child and yourself, its important that you apologize. Why? Recognizing your child’s feelings shows that you care even at a time that in retrospect you might not be particularly proud of. It also shows humility in your part in recognizing the impact that your choices had, even if you thought they were best at that time.
Why does parental betrayal hurt?
All transgressions against us hurt. So why are we so particularly vulnerable when it comes to betrayal? In a Psych Central article, author Therese J. Borchard, quoting John Bradshaw, labels the core of who we are emotionally our ‘wounded inner child.’ Bradshaw, she says, considers that it is necessary to come to terms with six specific concepts in the healing process:
- Shock and anger
The reason why all of these things are necessary to heal is that we all feel them; we just don’t like to acknowledge them. If we want to heal, we cannot remain in denial. We have to face our emotions head-on.
Parent betrayal hurts because of false justification, lack of trust, and because of the feelings of outrage, regret, abandonment, and downright sadness that it brings out in us. Once we understand that, we can begin to tackle each issue as it comes.
Is forgiveness necessary for healing?
Forgiveness is a term you will likely hear if you seek out professional counseling of any kind. The difficult truth is that many hurting patients feel pressure to forgive those who hurt them, and then feel even worse when they simply cannot. But regarding forgiveness, Psychiatrist David M. Allen puts it this way: “Forgiveness is not an end in itself but a byproduct of the process of reconciliation.”
He reflects that the problem is that too many people see their parents for the things they’ve done in the past and not who they are, nor who they can be. Furthermore, we make the mistake of letting that broken past dictate our futures.
According to Allen, fixing a relationship is not about making the other person feel like a terrible person. In order to move forward, we must look at the bigger picture, and let forgiveness come with time rather than try to force it upon ourselves.
The Blame Game
You would think that when someone is abused, their anger and hatred would be directed toward the abuser. M.Div Robert D. Caldwell, however, states in his article that the most negative feelings in a betrayal are directed toward the abusee.
Because if you’ve been treated like trash your entire life, you would logically conclude that you’ve done something to deserve it. After all, you wouldn’t know any better, would you? Caldwell writes,
Shame is believing that one is not loved because one is not lovable.
He identifies neglecting families, controlling families, enmeshed families, and abusive families the main culprits of innate shame.
He outlines the crippling effects of this shame, which, needless to say, are infinite. We must not blame ourselves, or even the people who hurt us. We must instead convert all of that negative energy into hope.
That means that who we are becoming should not be hindered by the struggles we are going through. Of course, our past experiences shape us and make us stronger, but that should be all that we allow them to do.
If you’re a Christian seeking to help someone heal from parental betrayal…
Reach out. No other bond can quite replicate the ideal relationship between parent and child, but you can play an active role in stopping those feelings of emptiness that so often consume victims of betrayal. Let them know that they don’t have to be ashamed and that their circumstances do not define them. Perhaps most importantly, let them know that they have a Father who loves them unconditionally and will never leave or forsake them- even when everyone else does.
If you’re a Christian who has been wounded by parental betrayal…
Seek comfort and insight from a Christian friend or mentor who truly cares about your life. We have all felt betrayed, lonely, or ashamed at some point in our lives; you are far from alone in your fight. Keep telling yourself the things you would tell a friend if they were to go through the same thing. Remind yourself that healing isn’t an action, but a process; and the same goes for forgiveness. It’s only by God’s grace and strength that you can ever hope to become a better, stronger person. The road to reconciliation may be bumpy, but the end will always justify the means.
Were you deeply wounded by your parents? Share your experiences below.