The Difference between Real Help and Abuse

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BRETHREN, IF any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also. Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it].

Galatians 6:1-2 AMP

How do you know if the help or advice you are getting is healthy?

It’s a question I wish I’d asked myself and done an in depth Google search on before I went to my pastor for advice.

After ten years of being an abusive relationship with him,  I’ve learned the difference between real help and abuse the hard way.  I hope through reading this you’ll be able to see some of the warning signs that I missed and be able to avoid falling into the same ditch that I did.

Last week my daughter and I sat in a counseling session with her counselor. My daughter had discussed something with her counselor in a previous session that her counselor wanted her to tell me.   We sat for a few minutes in awkward silence as my daughter struggled to tell me what was bothering her.  After her counselor gently coaxed her to let it out, my daughter finally spoke.

“Mama, I wish you didn’t talk so much and would listen more.”

Needless to say, this truth hit me right between the eyes, and I squirmed rather uncomfortably in my chair allowing her words to sink in. And if that wasn’t enough the counselor nudged her to be more specific.

She went on to describe how my talking to her felt more like lecturing and how she just needed me to listen and help her reach her own decisions on doing the right things.

These were hard truths for me to accept, but I was very thankful for my daughter’s honesty, because this gentle wounding of my ego has helped me to reevaluate my parenting skills.

If you are a parent,  I’m sure you understand how children seem to grow up overnight.   One day you are changing their diapers,  and the next you are handing them the keys to the car.   It’s hard to let go and let them grow up,  but healthy parenting involves preparing them to launch into their own lives one day.

My daughter is 14.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, she was sexually abused as a child. She’s suffered long and hard and has needed me more than any of my other children.   Because of my own abuse background,  I want to safeguard her in every way I can from being abused.   I want her to overcome the hurt and grow up healthy.   I want her to succeed and avoid making the same mistakes I did.  But sometimes I forget that she’s not a little kid anymore and has become a young woman. Letting go is really hard, but it’s also necessary to raise healthy kids.

But it’s not just our kids we have to let go of.  It’s our spouses, our friends, and those we are placed in a mentoring/counseling/shepherding role with.  All healthy relationships involve helping one another bear the difficulties in life, but recognizing at the same time the responsibility lies on each individual to carry their own loads.  If we carry others loads we develop an unhealthy dependence on one another.  We will idolize one another and not depend on our own God given gifts of abilities and faith to get us through.

One way I am able to recognize now that my relationship with my former pastor was unhealthy and abusive was the immediate  dependence I had on him.  He’d promised early on that he’d be there for me no matter what.   He told me we were bound together by one heart and soul.  If I hurt, he hurt with me.  If I needed advice,  he was always ready and waiting to give it.  He spent countless hours on the phone with me, and as time went on he hired me as his secretary so we could spend more time together.   Because I grew up in an abusive home where I got very little emotional support from my own parents,  this pastor’s attention felt like heaven had come down to my soul.  I believed with all of my heart that He was God’s answer to my prayer.

Hindsight provides so much clarity.   I recognize now his need to be needed by me.  His desire to be my god and for me to be his worshipper.   I needed him to function every day.  If I couldn’t talk to him or text him I felt desperate and empty like a drug addict without my drug.  And as addictions do it became more destructive, going down the path to sexual immorality.

This dependency that initially felt like everything I’d ever needed or wanted began to empty me of almost every bit of self worth that I had.  I began to believe I couldn’t do anything without him.   My life felt empty when he wasn’t in it.  It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever had.

Maybe it sounds ridiculous to you.  I really hope it does.  I hope you have never had to experience what I did.   I hope the only source of hope you ever find is in Him, because He’s the only perfect Father with the wisdom to direct our paths and the only One worthy to bow down before.  He is perfect.  He is love.  And He knows exactly when to hold on to us and when to let go.

A good parent knows how to listen to their children and hear what they really need.  My daughter needs for me to let her grow up and begin to make decisions for herself.  She needs for me to gently guide her in those decisons by placing gentle boundaries in place that give her the freedom to make the right choices on her own.  It’d be very unwise of me as a parent to lead her to believe that she wasn’t capable of making those decisons on her own and needed me to make them for her.  It’d be very selfish of me to cling to her like she was still a baby dependent on me for every need.  This behavior would communicate a very unhealthy need on my part to find my self worth through her.  It’s a trap many of us fall into, and unfortunately for my former pastor one that had terrible consequences for me and him.

BRETHREN, IF any person is overtaken in misconduct or sin of any sort, you who are spiritual [who are responsive to and controlled by the Spirit] should set him right and restore and reinstate him, without any sense of superiority and with all gentleness, keeping an attentive eye on yourself, lest you should be tempted also. Bear (endure, carry) one another’s burdens and troublesome moral faults, and in this way fulfill and observe perfectly the law of Christ (the Messiah) and complete what is lacking [in your obedience to it]. But let every person carefully scrutinize and examine and test his own conduct and his own work. He can then have the personal satisfaction and joy of doing something commendable [in itself alone] without [resorting to] boastful comparison with his neighbor. For every person will have to bear (be equal to understanding and calmly receive) his own [little] load [of oppressive faults].

Galatians 6:1-2, 4-5 AMP

So how do you know if your relationship is helpful or headed for abuse?  First of all ask yourself what this relationship is teaching you to rely on?  Are you trusting more in the one you’ve gone to for help? Or are you being given the tools to grow into a healthy relationship with yourself and with God?  Do you respect yourself more or are you losing faith in yourself because you think you need this other person to make it?  Are you giving yourself away in ways you never intended to?  Are you keeping secrets?   I encourage you if there is any question, any sign of a red flag waving in the distance that this is happening to you, to please reach out for help.

For by wise counsel you can wage your war, and in an abundance of counselors there is victory and safety.

Proverbs 24:6 AMP

The book Safe People by Cloud and Townsend is a great resource.

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