by Christina Enevoldsen
When I told people that I didn’t have any contact with my mother or father, I got some awkward responses. Some of them moved on to safer topics but some inquired in hushed tones, “Why not? What…happened?”
When I was too exhausted to tell them that I was kicked out of the family for standing up to my parents, I’d say something vague like, “My parents aren’t very nice people.” Or I shared the slightly more detailed (and shocking to some) version that my dad sexually abused me and that both of my parents defended my ex-husband for raping my daughter.
How many people do you think respond with, “Good for you for standing up to such awful behavior and for protecting yourself and your daughter.”? Not enough.
Some days it seemed it would be easier to tell people my parents are dead.
Some people thought that my boundaries meant I was bitter. I have might become bitter if I was still forced to endure a relationship with my parents, they way I had to during my childhood. But I’m happy that I when I finally saw the truth and stood up to them, I was “released” from such a destructive relationship. They meant to punish me through their rejection, but I’m much better off without their controlling influence.
Well-meaning people felt compelled to try to fix whatever was wrong with me—certainly something must have been wrong with me if I didn’t have a relationship with my parents. A few reluctantly “approved” of a temporary separation, as long as I worked towards reconciliation.
How would reconciliation work? What was I supposed to do—learn to be more resilient to abuse? Why was what was perceived as my hard-heartedness worse than the perpetual abuse from my parents? Why was “bitterness” more evil than raping a child or protecting a child rapist?
By the way, my parents are the ones who walked away from me for asking for respectful treatment. It’s tough when people assume I have control over the relationship my parents have with me. I complied with their abuse all my life and compliance was the only way I could convince them I was worth having a relationship with. Are the people who assume they understand and know best about the situation saying I was wrong for finally saying no to abuse?
The truth is, I understand people’s concern. I might have had the same reaction to someone else while I was still under that abusive system. It was wrong to even question anything. I was taught to respect my parents, to honor my father and mother…Those messages were taught and reinforced by my parents, by my church and by society’s example.
The cultural expectation is eternal obligation toward our parents. The rule is that we know they aren’t perfect, but we treat them as though they can do no wrong. Parents get a free pass. Whatever they did, whatever they do, they are our parents.
For most of my life, I went along with that. After I remembered my childhood sexual abuse, I never confronted my father; I treated him as though nothing ever happened. When my dad verbally abused my daughter for her entire childhood and into her adulthood, I never spoke up. When I realized as an adult that my mother contemptuously treated me like the other woman while I was growing up, I didn’t complain.
I only stood up to my mother for one thing in my life. It was only after she asked my husband and me to keep silent about the spiritual abuse we saw. I was finally growing enough to speak up. My mom’s response to my boundary was a reminder that I’m not perfect. So only perfect people are qualified to set boundaries—to say no to harsh treatment, deception, manipulations, and betrayals? I wasn’t claiming perfection; my claim was I was done with abuse.
Why do those two people—the ones who brought me into this world, the ones who should have the biggest interest in preserving my life—why should they get to take that life from me? Who gave them that right? I used to think they did have that right. I thought of myself as their property. They felt entitled to treat me in whatever way served them and I didn’t question that.
There are some people who claim God gave them that right. Their interpretation of the command to “Honor your father and mother” gives parents an untouchable position. Parents have all the rights and the child has none, including the right to resist certain types of treatment.
In my abuse-informed belief system, I agreed with that interpretation. I may not have defined it that way, but I practiced it that way. Now that I have some healing under my belt, I see things differently. I allow myself to question what I believe, to question the rules that I choose to live by, to question the people I want in my life.
By questioning, I see the intent behind that instruction, which is to preserve life. The role of parents is of nurturers and protectors of the life they began. Their position is to guide us and teach us to take care of that life. People who fulfill that role should be honored. But my parents didn’t do those things.
“Honor your mother and father” still means something to me. I still honor the spirit of that instruction. I’ve taken the good things my parents passed on to me and I protect, value, and honor those things and I’ve left the rest behind. I honor the gift of life my parents gave me. I honor it best by keeping it far away from them.
I’m Christina Enevoldsen and I’m the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse and the author of The Rescued Soul: The Writing Journey for the Healing of Incest and Family Betrayal. I’m a Strategic Interventionist and Certified Professional Life Coach with a specialty Life Story Certification. As a survivor of incest, sex trafficking and a 21-year long abusive marriage (now remarried to an emotionally healthy, loving and supportive man), I bring personal experience, empathy, and insight as well as professional training to help childhood sexual abuse survivors thrive.
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