From darkness to light
In the last series, I thanked God for showering me with my favorite things, like chocolate, antiques, yellow roses and cardinals. Speaking of brown, yellow and red, I spent a couple recent Saturdays working on my flower beds out front. Everything I planted was a first-time-for-me selection. What an amazing improvement. (Never fear. My yellow rose bush is doing beautifully, even after February’s Snowmaggedon.)
Brandon helped me by digging some of the old things out of our garden
to make room for better things.
That’s a great analogy for our story.
Today on Choosing Peace, we’ll take a look at some not-so-good things—the hidden, unspoken changes created by abuse, neglect and other traumas. Because these impacts are hidden, we often don’t understand our need to forgive our parents and others who’ve traumatized us—not only for what they did, but also for the impact they had on our lives. People and our experiences can negatively impact our thoughts… which inform our feelings… which become our words… which mold our beliefs… which build our decisions… which are embodied in our relationships.
Thoughts → Feelings → Words → Beliefs → Decisions → Relationships
Do some of your repeated thoughts, words and beliefs mirror what your parents thought, said and believed—instead of mirroring God’s word? Do your comments and beliefs come from your worst experiences instead of your best? Do you quote pop-culture sayings (like You do you) or song words or catchy lines from movies? Is your mind stuck—watching and replaying the same bad scene from your life? Think about your repeated thoughts and personal sayings. Where did they come from? Are they helping you? Do they please God?
To dig a little deeper, see Traumatic Grief, part 5, from What Was Stolen through the section called Renewing Our Minds.
The impact of trauma is profound. Until it isn’t.
The seed and the plant
Think of each trauma as a seed and the impact as the plant. What does the dirt represent? The dirt is the lies. The lies help the plant—the impact of trauma—to grow and grow and grow.
Sometimes we can’t see or identify the seeds—the traumas—so we don’t realize they’re there. And we often make excuses for those prickly plants—our thinking, speaking and living. We think, That’s just the way I am. Really? Is that the whole story?
Not seeing and not understanding are hallmarks of denial.
The dirt in our Trauma Garden represents the lies. And those lies do three things. They keep the trauma hidden, they sustain the denial, and they feed the impact of trauma. (For a list of these common lies, see the Lies section of this post.)
Here’s an example of trauma’s impact—from How a Sociopath’s Victim Feels, part 5.
I’ve been thinking about how our family sociopaths have impacted me on a deeper, more long-term level. Here’s what I’ve realized. Sociopaths leave you feeling like they’ve just stolen from you.
What do sociopaths and their abusive tactics steal from us?
♦ They steal our sense of security.
♦ They steal our peace and our happiness, temporarily or long-term.
♦ They steal our reputation.
♦ They steal our confidence.
♦ They steal our trust in people and in our own judgment.
♦ They steal our time, and during certain periods of time, our lives.
♦ They steal our sleep, our energy and our ability to focus.
Later in this post we’ll learn about the chaos orchestrated by sociopaths and people with other personality disorders. We’ll also learn how God can rescue us. But first, let’s look at these big changes—from denial to healing—from darkness to light. Remember, lies sustain our denial and the impact of trauma. Truth brings healing.
From denial to healing
Hidden things, disturbing things, sad things—and secrets—grow hurtful things inside us, kind of like poison ivy. When we believe the lies of trauma and denial, the impact grows: Negative thoughts, detachment, anger, distractions, addictions, depression, fear, shame, mistrust, nightmares, clinginess, isolation, unforgiveness and more. See the Denial vs. Healing section of this post to compare the lies of denial with the truths of healing.
Is there something in your life that you’ve been trying to forget? Doing the work of grieving will help you lay it down. See this six-part post for step-by-step help to resolve loss and trauma. You can do it. Laying down a loss or trauma means you just pulled some poison ivy out of your Trauma Garden and threw it in the fire. What a relief.
From darkness to light
A couple years ago we received some very bad MRI results for Logan. I texted the news to Meagan and Ann, friends from church, and asked for their prayers.
Wednesday, January 23
Meagan sent me encouraging texts. “Wow. That’s disappointing to hear. Hmmm, makes you wonder how all this fits into God’s plan… which we know is good and perfect despite appearances.” What a friend. Truth is a healing thing. …Ann texted me Isaiah 42 and I told her that Isaiah 42:16 is my Verse of the Day.
I will bring the blind by a way that they do not know.
I will lead them in paths that they do not know.
I will make darkness light before them,
and crooked places straight.
I will do these things, and I will not forsake them.
Isaiah 42:16, New Heart English Bible
Guess what? When we took Logan to see a specialist, he told us that the MRI had been misread. The disturbing results we received were wrong.
As we hold God’s hand, he will lead us and will make dark places light.
Don’t get me wrong. We won’t always get good news about Life on Planet Earth; but as we seek the Lord, he will shine the light on the truth. And truth is a healing thing. It really is. Truth about who God is. Truth about who I am.
Understanding and deciding
God has blessed Brandon and me with vivid dreams to help us understand (a) what happened—the trauma (i.e., the seed); (b) what it means in our lives—the impact (i.e., the plant); and (c) what we need to do to uproot each destructive plant and throw it in the fire, never to return.
Forgiving is an essential decision during this process—uprooting and destroying trauma’s impact. Why? Because unforgiveness keeps us tied to the trauma. Peaceful Readers, that hurts us far more than we realize. Read this important post to dig into the darkness—and the impact—of The Chain of Unforgiveness.
Forgiving frees us from the chains of the past.
At the beginning of this year I had an interesting dream.
Wednesday, January 6
While we walked the dogs this morning, I told Brandon about a dream I had last night. I was climbing up a steep, rocky, dangerous hill. People had to reach down to help pull me up. The climb was scary. At the top of the hill was a white frame house. Someone in the dream told me that there used to be steps up the hill, but they fell apart and weren’t replaced. Later in the dream, I was sitting beside Brandon’s dad at a table. He complained to me that Brandon and I hadn’t bought gifts for Brandon’s cousins. I said we were going to. I knew—in the dream—that we weren’t. Why did I lie? Why did I say what he wanted to hear? Pressure.
Brandon and I talked about the dream while we walked. He was forced to spend his own money on Christmas gifts for his cousins while he was growing up. He didn’t know them, he didn’t know what to get them, and they didn’t seem at all interested in what he gave them. Brandon talked about how his parents made no effort to build or maintain positive relationships for their children—with each other, with their cousins, with anyone. Brandon understood the meaning of the steep hill in the dream. We went to extreme, difficult efforts to do things his parents’ way and it was dangerous for us. It threatened our safety. It sure did.
Unpacking the dream
The white frame house in my dream reminded me of my in-laws’ house. Think of it as The Control Freak Café, The Sociopath Strike Center or just Sociopathville, for short. Even though my father-in-law Andrew died in October, his impact lingers—especially for Brandon.
Finding the impact
Why did I lie to Andrew in the dream? Why did I say what he wanted to hear? Because he and Delia orchestrated a treacherous climb to their house so I would arrive exhausted, afraid, with my adrenaline pumping, unable to focus or think, and in a general state of fear and confusion. I would arrive as the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights so they could mow me down.
While I was digging into this dream, The Climb, God revealed an important pattern to me.
The power of chaos
The Climb shows how control freaks leverage chaos to stun us—like a spider injecting her venom to immobilize her victim. We can’t think clearly when we’re afraid and/or confused.
The relationship between chaos, confusion and fear
Chaos creates confusion. Once we’re sufficiently confused—or off-kilter, as they say—the control freak strikes. Attacks and unpredictable behavior create fear.
Chaos → Confusion → Attack → Fear → Chaos → Confusion → Attack → Fear…
What’s the relationship between chaos and fear? Fear comes before and after the chaos. Bad things happen in chaotic environments. People get hurt in chaotic environments. People feel unsafe in chaotic environments. The Control Freaks of America know this.
(If you missed the Sociopaths series, our nickname for my mother-in-law was Her Majesty, the Sadistic Control Freak or Her Majesty, for short.)
The fear and anxiety start long before we arrive at Her Majesty’s Big, Fat Sociopathic Event. Our fear and anxiety intensify during The Climb (i.e., the final approach to The War Zone). From past experience, we know something’s coming. Something bad.
The attack continuum
The control freaks spin their chaos willy-nilly. Dare I say, constantly. The expression “Wack-a-doos on Steroids” comes to mind. As we know, chaos creates confusion—an important ingredient in The Attack Continuum [Chaos → Confusion → Attack → Fear…].
Getting what they want
What’s the power of chaos in this scenario? Remember, we can’t think clearly when we’re afraid and/or confused.
Control freaks use the chaos they create to attack and overpower their targets—
telling them what to do, why to do it, how to do it, and when to do it.
Sociopaths, malignant narcissists and other control freaks don’t back down. They use any and all pressure available to get what they want. They may even throw in a heavy dose of drama and theatrics—shrieking, crying, stomping, etc. They’re great actors. And they play to win. Period.
Imagine a magnificent arena with The Control Freaks of America competing in an epic, Olympic-styled sociopathic smackdown. Creating Chaos would be the preliminary round and The Attack would be the pièce de résistance that wins them the gold medal. Can you hear their adoring fans—I mean accomplices—cheering wildly?
A control freak’s favorite formula
Orchestrated chaos + target + attack = Major entertainment + control + victory.
How do control freaks create chaos?
Here are 12 of their common tactics. There are more. (1) Lies; (2) manipulation, gossip and drama; (3) withholding basic or necessary information; (4) gaslighting; (5) “inviting us”—I mean summoning us—at the last minute, as an after-thought; (6) doing and saying things to demean us; (7) confrontations and attacks; (8) refusing to take no for an answer; (9) building a solid fan base of accomplices who enthusiastically participate in the gossip/attacks; (10) frequent complaining, which activates our compassion and disarms our thinking; (11) making inappropriate demands—often in front of an audience to apply added pressure; and (12) moving the goal post (i.e., changing the rules, instructions or understandings mid-stream).
(Control freaks also use these tactics in their out-of-the-spotlight sneak attacks.)
How we look and what they say
These calculated efforts succeed in making us look like unwanted, clueless wonders—fully deserving all the gossip and bad-mouthing: “Did you see…? What an idiot.” We walk around stunned, asking ourselves, “What just happened?” The casual observers and accomplices believe everything the control freak says because the control freak has the power, rewrites the truth, and declares the alternate reality with great flair and drama. Are the accomplices dangerous too? Absolutely.
The game, the skirmish and the war
Nobody acknowledges that the control freak schemed and made multiple contacts to ensure that we look like stupid, incompetent nobodies. It’s all part of the game. And, believe you me, they’re having a great time playing it. Until they lose their new or favorite toy; I mean target.
Here’s a great example. Delia told us that the dress code was very casual for the memorial gathering to celebrate Brandon’s favorite cousin, Wayne, who died of cancer. It was at a restaurant by the lake. We showed up in jeans. Everyone else was dressed up. We looked like slobs. Touché, Delia. You won. But, unbeknownst to you, that was just a little skirmish. We won the war by escaping from The War Zone.
Control freaks 101
How about a quick 1-2-3 summary about sociopaths, malignant narcissists and other flavors of control freaks.
1. Control freaks live to control and toy with their chosen targets. People are possessions to them.
2. Control freaks have overpowering personalities and they get what they want. (Until they don’t.)
3. Control freaks are dangerous.
Here are two key truths from this post in the Sociopaths series.
Those who do evil and call it good are not to be trifled with.
You play, you lose.
You play, you lose became our mantra for our escape from The War Zone. We still say it here and there when someone lobs a grenade near our house. It reminds us to stay in our Safe Zone.
Rescued by God
God showed us the truth, taught us what it meant, encouraged and trained us, and showed us the way out. We followed his lead and he rescued us. God fought the spiritual and psychological warfare for us. Thanks be to God!
The LORD will go out like a mighty man. He will stir up zeal like a man of war.
He will raise a war cry. Yes, he will shout aloud. He will triumph over his enemies.
Isaiah 42:13, New Heart English Bible
To learn more about what God did for us, read the last section in this post, starting with The True Gifts.
If you’re dealing with a control freak of any flavor or intensity, I highly recommend these posts: Portrait of a Sociopath, How a Sociopath’s Victim Feels, Boundaries, and The Sneak Attack. See this post to learn how to lay down your fear/anxiety.
How did our escape from The War Zone relate to today’s garden analogy? Picture the sociopaths and their accomplices like a thick, tall, thorny hedge—all in a row. From a distance the hedge looks impressive. But up close? Spiky. Foreboding. Dangerous. With God’s help, we tied those big thorn-bushes to the back of a monster truck and yanked those suckers out of our Trauma Garden—roots and all. Then we lit them up and started a massive bonfire. Yee-haw. Sure, we got some scratches in the process; there was some blood here and there; but what a bonfire it was….
What about the long-term impact that Brandon’s parents and relatives still have on him? I’m praying for those remaining poison ivy plants to find their way into the fire—one at a time.
The forgiving prayer
After I understood The Snake and The Kitten dream from the last post, I learned that I needed to forgive people for their impact on my life—not just for what they did. The sociopaths. The accomplices. My sister—Pam, The Almighty; I mean the malignant narcissist. My ex-husband. My parents. Etcetera. So I prayed and told God that I forgive them all—anyone and everyone who ever hurt me, whether I remember the details or not. I forgave them all—for what they did, what they failed to do, and for the negative impact they had on my life.
It felt good to do that. It felt really good. I didn’t want to leave anyone or anything out. Forgiving ourselves and others brings freedom.
Afraid to forgive
Are you afraid to forgive? If so, you’re not alone. Take a look at this post—from Unforgiveness vs. Fear to the end. We’ll also dig into that subject later in this series as we learn how to tear down the barriers to forgiving.
Coming next: I’m expecting one or two more parts in this post, but I’m often surprised. We’ll see. Will I explore some of our interesting experiences at Andrew’s funeral or will I dig into The Power of a Name? Or something else? Come back next time and find out. Thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace.
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: Proverbs 29:25
Song for Healing: What a great song for this post and for our lives: “I Will Fear No More” by The Afters.