This article's focus is on biblical recovery for survivors of abuse, so I must begin this new feature "Dangerous People" with an explanation of what boundaries are and why they are necessary.
Having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not. Boundaries impact all areas of our lives.
* Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us.
* Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts.
* Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions.
* Spiritual boundaries help us to distinguish God's will from our own.
In short, no boundaries, no recovery.
I have been giving serious thoughts laTely to those who "dangerous people" are for those of us who have survived abuse and are trying to become whole. Unless we can recognize the different types of danger out there, there is a strong likelihood we will be derailed in our recovery.
Recovery is a process. Think of peeling an onion. The first layer of flaky skin is taken off. Good! We probably have decided we need help. We find competent help and begin the journey. Soon the second layer of flaky skin is shed. Excellent! Now we are beginning to see what the problem is! There could be months in between the first and second layers of onion skin. As each layer is shed, the odor and sting become stronger, but we persevere because we want to be whole, complete with dignity and a healthy sense of self.
Sometimes there are years in between layers of onion skins. We thought we were doing so well, and then BAM! Someone verbally slaps us, and we feel as if we're back at step one. It takes longer this time to process what happened and how we need to deal with it. That's where committed Christians have an advantage: they have a real Source outside of themselves. He's God Almighty with power to give us insight that actually helps. Of course, we have to have a teachable spirit and be humble enough to ask for His help.
I have known many people, including myself, who have been "in recovery" for many years. And I have seen most of them get beaten up by unexpected pain. Someone they thought they could trust betrays them. Someone they thought was healthy and whole surprises them with a piece of baggage they never saw before. (And we all have secret baggage.)
Or a grown child begin spewing hateful comments and tears the heart out of a mother or father.
Maybe a friend with what you had shared painful memories (and they had shared their minds) does not value the relationship enough to work it out. They wipe you out of their life in a matter of seconds and leave you feeling confused, dazed and totally alone. Whatever the stimulus, there is that inevitable three-steps-back that happens.
Unless you're a blamer. Remember: boundaries define that for which we are responsible. But blamers never accept responsibility for any of their destructive behavior. It's always someone else's fault.
How can you recognize blamers before forming relationships with them?
I thought you cared about me. Why would you treat me like this?
If you would just listen, I would not have to treat you badly!
You swore you would never hit me again. You lied to me!
If you did not make me mad, I would not have to hit you!
Mama, stop! You're hurting me!
See what you made me do?
What are you angry about? I'm totally confused.
You took away my liberty to make my own choice.
I do not understand why you're so hot and cold. Why can not you be civil?
I was abused as a child. That's why I'm so messed up! It's not my fault!
Why did you leave your wife and kids?
She did not fill my needs. If she had been a better wife, I would not have had to leave.
Why have not you lost any weight? I thought you made a commitment to be healthy.
People demand too much of me. I have to eat to deal with the stress!
Do you see a pattern here? These people do not want to accept responsibility for their own failures, and they're not particularly choosy about what they blame. Anyone will do.
In recovery, we have to watch for these patterns – not only in others, but also in ourselves. I am speaking from personal experience, as well as a counselor's experience with those who repeated the cycle of abuse in the next generation.
Suck up the smell and sting of each lost layer. Get your hands dirty, your eyes tearing, and your soul clean. Even if you never get rid of all the layers, the process will enable you to feel better about yourself, about God, and give you a sense of dignity. It is stinky, hard work, but it's worth it!