Healing from an Emotionally Destructive Relationship

Whenever I encounter a thoughtful person who is willing to share the personal impact of a good book, I like to pass it on.  Such is the case with Mary _____, who was impacted by the book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.  Take the time to read her perspective on the issue.

Leslie Vernick writes a very practical and balanced book in The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. I have related so well with much that she has stated. Vernick separates her discussion into three categories and corresponding sections of the book: Seeing it, Stopping it, and Surving it.

When I started reading this book there was an unnerving question that had been lingering in my heart for several months: Is it normal to be still struggling with, to be still experiencing the effects of, the abuse from my father? The first several chapters in the “seeing it” section answered my question with “yes, it is normal.”  Vernick described the effects of those who have experienced emotional, or any other kind, of abuse as seeing themselves in a bubble separate from others. I cried when I read it. It so perfectly described how I was feeling. I stopped reading and expressed my thoughts and feelings through a bubble chart showing how I felt different or disconnected from others as a result of my experience. Vernick also revealed that normal is really still just broken. I think that was important to hear as it brought my bubble back into the sphere of others. It gave me hope.

Vernick went on to describe abuse and where it comes from. She painted a biblical portrait of the destructive themes of the heart and how each theme plays its part in hindering and even destroying healthy relationships. I recognized instantly the anger and pride that was a part of my Dad. What surprised me was recognizing the symptoms of an evil heart in my Dad. I am careful when using that word, especially regarding my Dad as I believe he is a Christian. However, the parallels in my Dad’s behavior and the evil heart were too pervasive to ignore. The quote by Dan Allender which Vernick used fit all too well: “One awful, abusive event does not make a person evil, but when it represents a repetitive pattern of excessive disregard for others and a wanton, viscous refusal (arrogance) to look at the damage done, then one can ascertain a significant inclination to evil.” Disregard for others and an arrogant refusal to see damage or listen to wisdom all while under the cloak of beauty and goodness is sadly the epitome of my dad.  Vernick mentions that it is very hard to discern an evil heart because, as the serpent, they often look so good. I think this is a reason I still struggle relationally: The realization of the character of my dad was so startling that when it happened it came with deep shame and grief for not having recognized it sooner and the fear that I would not recognize it again in others.

I would not be honest if I did not share how I pinpointed my particular destructive theme of my heart: fear. I tend to be the epitome of a fearful heart, of one who has made an idol of man before God, of one who’s idol created the opportunity for co-dependent relationships. It was hard to see that my fear is destructive to relationships because it cannot freely love. Vernick states, “When we live to protect ourselves from relational pain, we cannot live freely or authentically.” Bingo. Her recommendation for healing? The process of knowing God’s love experientially. This is another hard challenge for me, but one I am choosing to pursue.

The last half of Vernick’s book is biblically practical advice for stopping the abuse and healing from it. She talks about how to own our choices and what those choices are. Some of them are: the choice to seeing the abuse and myself clearly, prayer, sharing it with others and gaining support, facing fears, learning truth, and learning to speak that truth to others without backing down. She shares practical advice for knowing when and how to speak up and to stand up. She ends the book with several chapters on healing with God.

Overall, I found Vernick’s book to be revealing, encouraging, and challenging. It is just what I needed. It gave me the freedom to be genuine in my struggles, the hope for healing, and the challenging resources to move towards that healing.

3 Responses to Healing from an Emotionally Destructive Relationship

  1. Catherine says:

    Healing from an emotionally destructive relationship takes time. I’ve written before and thank you for your reply.
    What can I do when my church turns their back on my situation because the husband I’ve separated from is a marriage and family counselor? I separated from him because he was mentally and emotionally abusive. He told me to leave his home and threatened to hit me if I didn’t. He told me the church would never believe anything I said because he is a counselor. The man lies repeatedly while bragging about his OCD problem.
    Where is a Christian woman to turn when the clergy of her own church doesn’t know what to do or refuses to do anything? Meanwhile, I feel abandoned twice, once by my husband, and secondly by the church. The Pastor passes the situation to elders and counselors but hasn’t addressed the letter I wrote to him 3 months ago where I informed him of my husband’s abusive behavior and the reasons why I moved back into my own home.

  2. Catherine A says:

    Hello, funny we share the same beautiful name :~)LOL
    First, I’d like to say how I empahize with you and your pain.

    Emotional abuse is just ONE of what I grew up with. My youth was filled with emotional, verbal, physical, and substance abuse. One of my parents was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When I matured, I attracted to myself the same things in men and I have realized that I have learned to behave the same way, unfortunately. I am working hard to come back to God and work on myself so that I do not hurt anyone anymore with my words, just like I do not wish to be the reciever of hurtful words and actions.

    Secondly, I have found many churches to unfortunately, full of a lot of hippocrites. Pick yourself up and seek out another church or social network that will listen to you and support you. You cannot exist in this place where you are continued to be abused and disrespected. The church that supports the abuser is wrong, know this.

    Stay close to God and you will be healed. You need to do the same thing I am doing, which is to recognize again your own beauty, strength, and intelligence to regain your true self worth. You were the victim here,but I was mutaully guilty. I know that the only way for me to heal and not continue the pattern, I must turn to the Lord for guidance.

    Stay strong and find the strength to open the windows, turn on Happy music, take a walk, care for your pets, plants, kids etc, watch a funny show or movie, turn to your family and friends for comfort. Whatever you do, do NOT allow your abuser the victory over you by keeping your head down. Hey, if you recall, Catherine was the Queen of Russia and quite powerful on her own….I was named for her. I recall this when I fall dependant and when I lose sight of the real me begging to get out of the prison I put her in. Rise up, Catherine, you are worthy and loved.

  3. Ginger says:

    Here’s how you can discern who has an evil heart:

    Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. ~Ecc. 7:20

    the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. ~Gen. 8:21

    The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ~Jer. 17:9

    As it is written:

    “None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
    All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

    (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

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