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.