Those of us who were raised in the church often have a particularly complicated relationship with our parents. When our parents don’t fit society’s requirements for being abusive, and yet we feel profoundly harmed by our parents, it sets up a unique internal struggle: confusion, guilt, and often a mix of anger and justification for our caregivers’ choices.
Its especially hard if we love our parents and want to be close, but feel pushed away by their actions. We often take on the responsibility for their behavior, thinking if only we tried hard enough we could be different than them and still have a healthy connection.
But we can’t lift both sides of the relationship. While our parents might love us and might have met our physical needs, they still put us in an abusive situation and often neglected our emotional needs. As much as we might love our parents and even feel empathy for them, there often comes a point when we need to confront them for the abuse they either caused or enabled.
That’s what this letter is. It’s an actual letter I wrote to my parents recently when things yet again came to a head. Feel free to use any of these points with your own parents, if it would help you.
P.S. – My parents aren’t horrible, evil people, and yours might not be either. But that’s the thing with high-demand religion – it makes good people do bad things.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I wanted to take a few minutes to open up and be vulnerable enough with you to let you know how the communication dynamics in our relationship are affecting me.
It’s very hard to talk to you about anything beyond surface-level topics because you get so frantic and wound up and defensive and full of fear and anger. The way you both keep bringing up harsh and judgmental sentiments over and over, never letting it rest, and the way you make passive aggressive comments about heavy topics – seemingly to “get me thinking” about it or to get a reaction out of me – it starts to feel like harassment and it’s hard to enjoy my time around you without being always on edge.
Going forward, I am setting the boundary that I will not discuss political or religious topics with either of you anymore. It is an unfortunate solution, because I would prefer to be able to chat back and forth as equals about whatever is on our minds, but the way you talk about these things makes that seem impossible. I feel preached at and cornered and you seem to listen only enough to form a rebuttal. That’s not a respectful, reciprocal relationship.
I don’t want to be around the anxiety-inducing negativity and I also don’t want to see you living your own lives in fear and anger either. Life is short, why be consumed by that? Enjoy life, make the best decisions you can for yourselves, focus on the things that make you happy, and give others the freedom to do so as well.
You told me recently that you feel you have to walk on glass around me, because I “take things SO personally”.
I do take it personally when my own parents repeatedly defend my abusers (the church), yes.
I do take it personally when my parents keep pushing the same ideology on me that originally traumatized me and gave me the lasting injury of PTSD. I will always take that personally.
I do take it personally when subtle jabs are made in my presence and pointed at people who are just like me and fit my demographics. This includes me and the people I love in your insult – so yes, I take that personally.
I do take it personally when my beliefs and decisions are misrepresented and distorted, and people who share my values are painted to be villains. I take that very personally.
I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t understand the depths of cruelty I experienced from the people and culture at your church.
I assume you don’t realize just how important my faith was to me (it was everything) and just how far the church had to push me and torment me, to get me to leave. I didn’t want that. I would have stayed if it was safe.
You say you care deeply about me, and I believe you, but…
1) you’ve never actually asked about my abuse or to hear my story, and you seem to prefer I don’t bring it up,
2) you’ve never asked you how can help,
3) you’ve never asked or talked about about ways you might have been complicit in what happened to me,
4) you’ve never stopped defending the people who abused me,
5) you’ve never stopped promoting the beliefs and lifestyles that harmed me,
6) you’ve never approached me with an openness to learn and willingness to only listen without a defense,
7) you’ve never clearly affirmed that you do in fact believe me, and defending the church makes it seem like you don’t (that’s one of the worst things an abuse survivor can experience, not being believed)
8) you’ve never apologized for the ways you were involved – such as believing lies about me, talking to people about me behind my back, blaming me for what I went through and placing me in that community in the first place (even when done with good intentions).
Again, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t fully understand all that happened and that you wouldn’t want to do these things on purpose. But there still comes a point where each of us needs to take responsibility for our actions and I believe in this situation we’ve reached that point.
You don’t have to walk on glass around me, just please
1) don’t defend my abusers,
2) don’t keep pushing traumatizing ideology on me,
3) don’t make frequent judgmental and negative comments around me
And I believe the best and maybe the only way to do this, is to
4) not discuss politics or religion together.
A few final thoughts – before you say something negative about a person or group of people, ask yourself “Is this loving? Do I know this person’s entire story? Do I know their motivations? Am I 100% certain if I lived their EXACT same life and suffered everything they have suffered, that I wouldn’t end up in the same situation?” The world would be such a more beautiful place if we all saw the humanity in each other.
And I’m tired of your frequent, passive Doomsday comments that are always out of the blue and jarring and pointless unless you are purposefully trying to upset me. It puts me on edge and makes me nervous to be in situations where it could happen again. This affects my ability to spend longer bouts of time with you.
And finally – Please, just let me be me. Give me the same freedom you yourselves have, to be who you want to be.
I love you both very much and I’m taking the time to say all these things because I want to have the closest and healthiest relationship possible.