Parents who provide consistent affection, emotional and physical safety, boundaries, limits and expectations, opportunities, role modeling, belonging, safety, unconditional love and spiritual values foster the healthy development of Family Privilege. However, in spite of our rhetoric about the family values and the value of families, Family Privilege is largely invisible to children and young people who benefit from it. Like the wind, which is unseen but powerful, Family Privilege has a profound impact.
John Seita “Reclaiming Family Privilege” (https://www.questia.com/magazine/1P3-2942825771/reclaiming-family-privilege)
There seems to be an idea that regularly surfaces that people who are estranged need to ‘get over their past’, make or receive amends for things that have happened and get on with it. Sometimes people who have elected to estrange are perceived as being “ruthless, unkind, damaged, lacking in compassion, unwilling to forgive and forget – unwilling to go the distance”.
What is regularly overlooked is that for some people who are estranged the problems didn’t necessarily start in childhood nor did they end there. Adults may be subject to ongoing toxic stress and trauma and just because they are older it doesn’t mean that it hurts any less.
Fiona McColl – E-stranged.com (http://e-stranged.com/blog/tag/family-estrangement/page/4/)
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting malicious accusations.
13 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
We have been reading and researching on and around this topic for the last dozen years but it wasn’t until I read John Seita’s quote above about family privilege on Fiona McColl’s blog that I realised how profound this concept is. Those who have healthy, or at the very least non-abusive, families do not even realise what privileges they have in the community. And that is as it should be. It is only abused children who sense deeply that they have been bereft of something important. Those children who have no sense of belonging, although they may not have been able to identify it, will be able to recognise that belonging in healthy family dynamics around them. It will resonate with them at a profound level and they will carry that pain with them to adulthood and beyond.
This is actually a good thing. For when those children grow up, this ‘knowing’ will be the catalyst and motivator to seek out reasons for and answers to their deep seated distress. If we don’t recognise what constitutes normal healthy and good family dynamics we will never understand why the dysfunctional and abusive doesn’t quite sit right. We know at a visceral level but until we know with our hearts and minds we will continue to pine for what is rightfully ours.
Unfortunately, it often does take many decades before adult children of dysfunctional families discover what is wrong. They will have always thought it was them, but usually something will trigger an awakening in which they suddenly see themselves in a different light. Sometimes it will be through therapy, sometimes through their own research, sometimes it will take a traumatic event but they will start to see that their issues have a much broader landscape than they ever dared to imagine.
In the same way that family privilege is camouflaged to the members of that family, familial abuse is considered normal and the deep down shame and guilt that members carry is often mitigated by mentally and verbally excusing the abuse in some way both to yourself and outsiders. Should anyone else try and point it out, the members of the abusive family will defend their family dysfunction to the bitter end. “Nobody is perfect”, and “but at least they provided food on the table and a roof over our heads” or “they weren’t that bad” are some of the extenuations we tell ourselves. Yet these statements in themselves are evidence that there is a problem. As we stated above, children in privileged families don’t need to excuse anything.
As Fiona McColl points out, for many who come from abusive families of origin there is an ongoing problem; not just in the way they cope with the abuse from their families but because they continue the pattern and cycle of abuse with significant others (spouses, partners, friends). Until this recognition hits and we seek out knowledge, support and help we will continue to see these isues as either insignficant or somehow our own fault.
In our case, it wasn’t until we left an abusive cult ‘church’ which we had attended for 15 years that we realised that the problems we faced in the cult were exactly the same problems we had faced growing up. It wasn’t until we woke up to what was going on in the cult and asked ourselves how it was that we allowed all of this to happen and thought it was normal that we looked at our lives as a whole and saw the patterns.
To those who ask, and it is a common question, how normal intelligent and otherwise sensible people manage to get themselves involved in cults I have this to say. Read John Seir’s quote above. It is hardly revelatory, these aspects of family have been recognised for centuries. We all know why family is a good thing, they have your back, they are a safe place to fall, a place where you belong. If you don’t have a safe place in your family then where do you have it? We have it in God. Many will go to God for support, love, encouragement, a safe place. And scripture is clear, ‘when my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will take me up’ (Psalm 27 v 10). So we go to church. A good church functions like a good family. It provides everything that a fallen, broken family doesn’t. And of course a privileged christian family in a privileged christian spiritual family or church is quite something to behold. Here, and nowhere else, do we see the way family is supposed to exist, living in both the joy of physical closeness and oneness with God.
A cult is what happens when we see a ‘form of godliness’ (2Timothy 3) without the power. A cult is a mile wide and an inch deep. Their love is ‘love bombing’ it is not real. Their closeness is based on fear and trauma bonding not freedom and their sense of belonging is based on secrecy and punishment not genuine acceptance. For those who have come from abusive and dysfunctional families looking for the genuine article it is very easy to be deceived. They have had no experience of the real thing so they tend to move towards what they think is normal. However their ‘normal’ is in fact dysfunction.
A cult doesn’t look like a cult on the outside, and its members, because they reside in a dysfunctional spiritual family, don’t recognise the abuse from the inside either. Nobody finds out about a cult until somebody who left talks about what went on. In order to do that they fist have to wake up. When they do they begin to hold the abusers accountable. Then the fireworks begin. It is the wilful, narcissistic malice of the cult leaders and their cronies which both drives and contains the group. It isn’t until you fall foul of these wolves that you realise the kind of group you were in. This is a place of deliberate deception. If you wonder how anyone could stay in a cult, or join one, recognise if nothing else that deliberate deception is demonic in origin and keeps a strong hold on its victims. Those who step into these groups do not choose to join cults, they desire to be accepted, loved and embraced. They are looking for a place of belonging, and God’s family does provide that. It is only when sin, the wickedness of the false shepherds and false Christians, gets a hold on a group that you end up with a cult.
It has been over ten years since we left the cult and embarked upon a life changing journey to examine ourselves, our families of origin, our own family dynamics, our marriage dynamics and our personal issues. We have made every effort to align ourselves with not only God’s word on all of these things but to apportion responsibility where it actually resides and not heap everything upon our own heads. Not even God blames anyone for something they did not do. Amazingly though, Jesus took other peple’s sins against us to the cross as well as our own sins. He died for those abuses that others perpetrated against us. It is because of this that we can understand that becoming part of God’s household where He himself is the Father is taking us into totally unexplored territory. Our family privilege comes from being part of the body of Christ. It is both an inherited privilege and one we learn through faith. We don’t immediately recover from what we experienced in our biological family when we become born again, but knowing what happened and seeing the truth of how we were damaged can give us a new appreciation for the fatherhood of God and the ways of His household.
One of the biggest problems with Christians coming into the Kingdom of God and learning about how God’s family operates is that more often than we would like, the ones trying to teach us about Kingdom principles have themselves come from dysfunctional backgrounds and have not done the work needed to free themselves from their own unhealthy ways of relating. For example, when I was 19 and suffering from panic attacks I looked to other Christians to help me deal with it. I had become a Christian myself at 13, but living in a household antagonistic to faith of any kind and not having any other support from Christians outside my family, I ended up backslidden and trying desperately to get my family’s approval thereby causing myself much grief through compromise.
So I went and talked to a Pastor’s wife I had met briefly through a friend of mine. She herself had come from an abusive dysfunctional family and though I didn’t know it her own family were not coping either. Pastor’s kids I have known have generally ended up pretty screwed up. It seems leaders’ families get the brunt not only of the general family dysfunction but the dysfunction brought on by religious duties overriding family needs. So, here was I, a total emotional mess due to my upbringing trying to get some much needed spiritual and familial support from a spiritual ‘mother’ but I ended up inheriting not only my own biological family issues but many of hers.
Not only was the pastor’s family something of a mess but they were not able to recognise that my own familial issues were similar to theirs. We focused on things, good things, like baptism in water and in the Spirit and bible studies, getting involved in church and so on. While these things helped me progress somewhat in my walk with God, they did not address the core issues which were causing my panic attacks. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I realised my panic attacks were a result of my upbringing and could not therefore be fixed with just prayer or bible study or memorising scriptures or going to church. There needed to be a painful awakening to what was broken in my family and therefore in myself. For however much parents want to blame their children for their children’s issues, there is no getting away from the fact that these children are the way they are because they were raised by their dysfunctional parents.
Any child, regardless of their innate personality is going to be affected by their family environment in profound and far-reaching ways. These issues are generational to the extent that they remain unrecognised or unresolved but they can be changed and blocked from going any further. This has been the intent in our family. By recognising what had gone before it is much easier to address what is happening now, be accountable for how you have raised your family and make an effort to talk to your children, repent, ask for forgiveness and discuss what is happening.
Then you will be able to move from briar to myrtle, from the curse of sin to the blessings of God. This alone is the privilege of the inheritance of the children of Abraham.