Dealing with Abusive Family Members

Locked In Families

I was raised in a family where reality didn't matter.  Whatever the abusive person said was the truth was true. I tried and saw other people work to the point of exhaustion to try to change the perception of the abusive person and to be seen as good, loyal, hard working, whatever it was. It took me a long time to realize that IT WAS JUST A GAME. IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH WHO WE WERE OR WHAT WE DID. It had everything to do with control.

Rev. Rich MollicaRev. Rich Mollica

Rev. Richard Mollica has 17 years of professional experience in providing Christian counseling, group counseling, pastoral care, and intervention services. He has also helped to establish Christ-centered programming in treatment facilities across the country.

The way these pimp mind games work is pretty simple. It starts with connecting to a new relationship. The first order of business for the abuser is to get their fingers into the person's self-esteem-- praising them or being critical of them, switching back and forth, whatever works.  

The next order of business is control and isolation. Get control over little things: what they eat, what they wear, how they do their hair. Begin calling into question family and friends. Some of these people may be abusive anyway, which makes the job easier. Once the person is isolated, used to being controlled, and needs the abuser's approval to feel human, it's all light work from there.

Starting Life in an Abusive Family Relationship is Tragic

I was born into this kind of system after the concrete was already poured. When I started to see it for what it was, and when I see it in couples or families now, it's mind blowing. I will see a smart, attractive person, making all the household income walking around like the abuser is doing them a favor by choosing to stay with them. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?

I've seen people work like dogs all week, but the abuser would discount that and emphasize their own importance. It will make me twitch to this day when I see this happen. I remember hearing a guy talk in a belligerent aggressive way about all the errands he would run and all the work he did around the house and how ungrateful his girl was.

He was unemployed. She worked all the time. Shouldn't he do that just to show gratitude for being supported? Abusers know that their victims work hard, that they're attractive, that they make money, that they are intelligent. They want to break their partners, children, or family members because they want to possess them and fear that if they know their own worth they will leave. So they play mind games to keep them down. No, love based on domination isn't love at all. It's manipulation and emotional abuse. It's hard to break out of this system.

Young Boy is Confused About Love and Feelings in His Family

The craziest truth for me was realizing that it was a game. No matter how hard I tried to be good for my family, the game wasn't set up for me to be good. It was set up for me to be controlled. Getting healthy support is HUGE. It's difficult because regardless if it's therapy, family, friends, 12 Step meetings, or church, it will be threatening to the abuser, and they will mock or manipulate to get you to cut that off. We need other voices speaking life and strength to us in our ears if we are going to get these abusive fingers out of our brains.

Seek Out Those Who Will Support and Build You Up

Deciding to leave the relationship or stay in it with new boundaries is a personal choice. The important things are growing healthy supports, cultivating an accurate and kind view of ourselves, and creating boundaries that keep us safe from this poison. If we can do those things in relationship, that's great. If we can't keep it healthy, then we start to think about increasing physical boundaries (only talking on the phone/ hanging up if abusive) or complete separation.

The nature of the relationship dictates some of this. An abusive mother who lives in Canada can be hung up on, a boyfriend can be broken up with, but a spouse and parent to your 5 kids is different.  But in each of these cases the solutions are similar. Increase your strength and support, learn to love yourself, and boundary out abuse (that may or may not mean ceasing contact). It's simple but it's not easy.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.