The trauma of child abuse: from denial to healing, part 3 of 4

Brandon and Frankie Ann

When Victim #1 in a very sick family (i.e., Our Perfect Family) gets married, this throws a big wrench into the gears—the way the family “works”—or operates, I should say. The abusers absolutely must ensure that their victim continues to embrace his or her role, because sociopaths live to abuse. It is their favorite form of entertainment and the best demonstration of their power. It is essential to their very being, which explains their fervor for the task at hand.

A Sociopath’s Recipe for Managing a Victim’s Spouse
Snatch the spouse by the neck, shake vigorously and drop the shocked body to the floor.
Repeat as necessary.

Obviously, that recipe is figurative, but you get the picture.

Let’s continue with the second half of the third-person story I wrote years ago.

Why the vehement gossiping against Brandon’s wife? Because she’s there for Brandon. No one’s ever been there for Brandon. No one’s ever cared about what he has to say. No one ever wanted to hear the truth. Frankie Ann may learn the truth and blow the whistle on Our Perfect Family. She might speak the truth to Brandon about what she’s experiencing and feeling. She might validate his feelings. Oh no. She might take Brandon from his role of The Victim to something better. We can’t have that.

The new target
One reason why Dear Old Mom and Big Sister let-up on Brandon while simultaneously blowing Frankie Ann away with both barrels of their sawed-off shotguns is in hopes that (1) Brandon will join the firing squad, and (2) Frankie Ann will give up and go away.

Here’s the way this part of the equation rolls. What could be more fun than terrorizing Brandon’s wife while pretending to actually like Brandon? Ha! Maybe he’ll get on board with us and start treating Frankie Ann like The New and Bigger Problem that she is. That would be the best. Besides, if Brandon can’t stick up for himself, there’s no way he can stick up for that worthless Frankie Ann. We’ll get rid of her, we’ll get Brandon to help us with that, and then we’ll put Brandon back into his proper place. If Brandon were alone, feeling depressed, with no one in his corner, things could return to their rightful place in Our Perfect Family.

Anyone who’s watched a child try to triangulate her parents understands this aspect of human nature. When parents aren’t united in their expectations, a child learns early on to go to the more lenient parent for permission, even when the other parent already said no. The fireworks that erupt between the parents give our Little Manipulator a sparkly, added bonus for her bad behavior. She gets to set off fireworks that provide many hours of entertainment, and the fireworks keep her parents’ focus off the child and her misbehavior. Jackpot!

Likewise, gossips use a similar tactic. If I can get the two love-birds mad at each other, I can weaken their relationship. If I do that long enough, I can blow their marriage to smithereens. Then I’ll be in charge of Brandon again like I should be.

The systematic attack
The easiest way to get a husband and wife at odds with one another is to systematically attack one of them—to find fault with Frankie Ann’s every move and word and perceived motivation, and to get Brandon to question his wife’s integrity. Yes, Dear Old Mom and Big Sis will gladly and unashamedly bad-mouth Frankie Ann to Brandon. Even if Brandon doesn’t ever question his wife’s integrity, their relationship will be strained by all of the gossip and troublemaking. Until it isn’t.

Sadly, in most of the families that operate like Our Perfect Family, the tactics work. Most of the Brandons of the world don’t ever learn to stand up to their bullying relatives. And most of the Frankie Anns leave. If you Google “I hate my mother-in-law” in quotation marks, you’ll get more than 300,000 hits. This scenario is common and very destructive for everyone involved. How many of the Frankie Anns in the world never write anything about their mothers-in-law online? The true figure is staggering.

Thriving in the war zone
But we aren’t talking about just any Brandon and Frankie Ann in our scenario. We’re talking about a Brandon and Frankie Ann whose marriage endures and thrives. How? Truth. Boundaries. Healing. (Plus a hearty dose of commitment and perseverance.)

Brandon found in Frankie Ann someone he could be truthful with. She listened and validated his feelings. Brandon had a lot to say—not all at once, of course. Frankie Ann listened and helped him think about and process the things he’d experienced. Over time, he thought about aspects of his childhood, and then he talked with Frankie Ann, explaining more and more. Frankie Ann listened and understood. Brandon reflected, reevaluated and re-felt the things that had happened to him. With Frankie Ann’s and God’s help, Brandon renewed his mind.

Strength and boundaries
Brandon got stronger and healthier. Brandon learned that he could trust someone. He could trust Frankie Ann. She was honest with him about what she saw and what she believed. She believed in Brandon, and she didn’t sugar-coat things. She told him when he was right, and she told him, lovingly, when he was wrong.

When Brandon started putting new and healthy boundaries in place with his extended family, the fireworks and shotgun blasts were loud, colorful and clouded with smoke. Brandon would never have said that before he married her! (What’s that rummaging sound I hear? Ahhh, yes. Dear Old Mom must be digging around in her closet. Where’s my shotgun?!)

The turning point
Strangely enough, at one point in their marriage, Frankie Ann gave Dear Old Mom (her beloved mother-in-law) a really generous gift. Dear Old Mom loved it. She was moved by it. Dear Old Mom was perplexed. What was she to do now? She couldn’t go on bad-mouthing Frankie Ann to everyone. That would make Dear Old Mom look bad. Gosh. What do you think she did?

She turned her shotgun back on Brandon.

Frankie Ann hadn’t expected that. But, after reflecting on everything, she wasn’t surprised. Neither was Brandon. It was just so obvious—at least to Brandon and Frankie Ann. Dad, Big Sis and the Perfect Princess were happy to carry on as though nothing had happened. I mean, what’s the difference? As long as someone in Brandon’s household was getting blasted, everything was hunky-dory and status quo for Our Perfect Family.

One at a time
Why do gossips target one spouse at a time? A united front is strong. A divided house falls. If The Gossip targets both spouses simultaneously, they’ll just say in unison: We’re out of here. But if only one spouse is targeted at a time, there’s more negative impact on the marriage, and there’s a greater likelihood that Brandon and Frankie Ann will maintain at least some degree of contact with Our Perfect Family.

The next generation
Since the offspring of the Perfect Princess and Big Sis were raised in Our Perfect Family, they’ve been taught all their lives to be mad at either Brandon or Frankie Ann. That’s just the way things are. They’re trouble. They’ve always been trouble, and they’ll always be trouble.

It’s easy to see how gossip becomes a generational problem, passed down very naturally and wholeheartedly from Dear Old Mom to her daughters and then to her grandchildren. Dear Old Mom will gladly participate in a gossip-fest when her adult granddaughters come over for a sleepover. Why not? They’ve all been bad-mouthing Brandon and/or Frankie Ann all their lives. What could be more entertaining at a sleepover? It’s our own, personal soap opera, complete with sleeping bags, sodas and popcorn. The best!

The torch that was passed long ago
If you think things will quiet down after the biggest gossip in your life dies, think again. Even when Dear Old Mom [or Big Sis] dies, the dysfunctional family roles remain the same, since she so faithfully passed down hatred for Brandon and Frankie Ann—The Problem and The New and Bigger Problem—to the next generation.

The here and now
We learned about sociopaths last year and we got away. We escaped from The War Zone. Life is much better now.

Emotional healing isn’t some intangible, esoteric thing. It’s real. We experience it—both powerfully and peacefully.

It makes me think about our hearts. We don’t usually think about our hearts beating. But when you take your fingers and press them on that particular spot of your neck, you feel in your fingers that steady rhythm. Even though you can’t see it, you know it’s there….

Coming next: Next time on Choosing Peace, you’ll read about my mother-in-law Delia’s recent, manipulative attempt to re-engage us in the war. More importantly, you’ll read Brandon’s response. It gets a Shazam from me.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Isaiah 59:15-18

Song for Healing: “Because He Lives” by Matt Maher

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