I came across this post about the book Toxic Parents by Susan Forward. The author, BLG2319, comments on how he has come to understand aspects about his parents and his wife's parents that are troubling. Here's what he says. Read on...
I have been reading the book "Toxic Parents" by Susan Foward for the last week or so. I cannot believe how much both sets of parents, mine and my wife's, fit the description. As I read each page I am comfronted with the reality of the situation.
My wife is completely controlled by her parents. They have so much control over our lives it is absurd. I just didn't realize how bad it was until I saw our lives being lived out in that book.
I am still angry at my own parents for a whole list of reasons. I tried forgiving them, but that has only served to make it worse. I rage at my stepfather's negative reaction to me as a child. I am angry that I gave my mother a pass by idolizing her instead of holding her more responsible for what happened when I was a kid. I see now where I still allow her to push my buttons. I feel so beaten down right now. Now that these problems that I thought were just in my head have been made clear to me, I have no choice but to do something about it. I don't know what that is going to be, but I cannot continue to live this way.
To top it all off, it seems some the worst advice in the world at how to deal with all this comes from the Bible. It is truly disappointing to me that the older I get the more I realize just how wrong the Bible is about a whole host of things. I am saddened by how distructive Judeo-Christian teachings really can be to us all.
One of the things that Forward suggests doing is unforgiving. This is totally unchristian, but it may be necessary for me to move forward.
I don't know how to end this post, so I think I will ask a question. Does anyone have any advice?
I think this is relevant to pastors, both as counselors in their congregations and as men and women who were born into famlies, and must live with the effects of past family history.
When Forward calls for unforgiving, I suspect she means that you are not willing to accept the behavior of the person. You can forgive them because you recognize that their toxicity is a function of their sin. We can certainly forgive on that basis. But to forgive and accept the continued behavior is not to forgive, so much as to give in.
My experience in working in a variety of ministry settings over the past 30 + years is that their are a lot of notions about what is biblical behavior that is really not biblical. It uses biblical terminology and analogies, but in essence it is a form of behavioral proof-texting.
If we are to counter toxic people in our lives, we don't do it by giving in. We do so through tough love. We confront the situation in a rational, constructive manner. This means we have to control our emotions as we deal with those who we love and whose love for us is toxic. This requires a level of maturity that does not develop overnight. It comes from reflection and recognition of how truth fits into the real world.
The other day in an email conversation with a friend, talking about how "reality" or "realness" is used as a marketing concept, I said to him, "... reality is not a commodity, it is truth in the form of a person who is present with you. You can’t sell realness. It either is or it isn’t. You can’t manufacture it. It either is or it isn’t. You can’t spin realness. Either you are true or you are not. And I see this is humble, caring honesty more than anything today."
The problem with toxic people is that in order to get real with them, in order for forgiveness to be something more than words, we have to confront them, create the conflict that leads to healing. And whether it is our parents, or a pastor colleague, a member of the session, or a spouse, it really needs to be done.
This is an important topic that pastors, Sessions and congregations need to discuss on an ongoing basis. I'll continue to do so here.