by Christina Enevoldsen
Compliance to dysfunctional family rules was survival as a child but it was self-betrayal in adulthood.
One of the most significant sources of pain and damage of my abuse comes from betrayal, especially from my parents.
The man who was charged with the responsibility to protect and care for me violated my innocence and trust again and again. The betrayal continued into adulthood when my father insisted to others that I was a liar and, with my mother, sued me for defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
My parents’ disloyalty extended to choosing to defend my ex-husband, a convicted child molester over me and my daughter.
And when my husband and I stood up to the abuse by our former pastor, my parents ended their relationship with us.
After years of estrangement, I confronted my mother last year about some of her betrayals. When I asked her about the lies she presented as discovery in the lawsuit, she justified them as something she had to do to protect their reputation. They were entitled to a good reputation, no matter what they had done. To preserve it, they were willing to ruin mine.
There was a time when I believed in their value and their rights over mine too. I believed that because of the way I was treated.
In my dysfunctional family, there were dysfunctional family values and rules to live by. To survive, I learned them well.
I learned my place. My role was to absorb the family pain and shame. One of the primary ways I did that was to carry the family secrets. I followed the rule by keeping silent about the abuse and maintaining the façade.
“Our family is so loving.”
“Our family is so happy!”
“I’m so blessed to have such wonderful parents.”
Another rule I learned is my parents’ opinions and desires are the standards that must be followed. Theirs was the obvious right choice. The only moral answer.
My feelings and desires were not only invalid, but they revealed my selfishness and arrogance. I was willful and prideful if I dared to want something else.
It was survival to accept those rules (and a multitude of similar ones.) All of the rules and values communicated that I’m not as important as they are. My place is to serve them.
Living by those rules caused me to betray myself over and over again into adulthood. I continually put them above me as though my life depended on them.
But I’m not a child anymore. Healing has empowered me to stand in the truth and I have new values and rules I follow:
I’m equally valuable as others.
My value does not go up or down based on how I’m treated. Nobody has the right to assign me value; it’s inherent.
My thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, desires are important.
I have the right to choose according to what is best for me.
It’s my responsibility to take care of me—and only me.
It’s not my responsibility to make everyone or anyone else happy. Happiness or unhappiness is their responsibility. So are all their other emotions.
If someone judges me as selfish or arrogant or anything else, that doesn’t make it true.
I don’t have to comply to be accepted or loved. If I’m pressured to comply, it’s not really me they accept anyway; it’s my service they accept. They don’t offer me real love; they don’t even see me as a valid person—only an object for their use.
If control is a condition of acceptance, it’s not a loving or healthy environment.
I’m free to leave an unloving or unhealthy environment (or any environment.)
If I’m ostracized or rejected in one community, I’m empowered to find a new, loving one. I’m not doomed to be alone.
What are the rules you learned in your dysfunctional family? And what new rules have you learned to live by now? Please comment below and contribute to the conversation. Remember to subscribe to the comments so you don’t miss any of the discussion. You can post anonymously and email addresses are always kept private.
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.