Spiritual Abuse – When someone uses the Bible to justify their poor behaviour and to convince you to endure it.

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Spiritual abuse is a common – and particularly twisted – form of mistreatment found within the narcissistic family dynamic.

Many articles out there focus on spiritual abuse within the context of the church, but it happens within the family just as (or more?) often.  It can be hard to notice, because these narcissists are upstanding Christians who we shouldn’t question, right?  So I thought I would share my experiences with spiritual abuse in the context of the narcissistic family dynamic (but please know this happens in families in the absence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder too).  I hope this helps others be able to pinpoint, and then stop, any spiritual abuse in their life.

The definition of the word “abuse” is as follows:

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“Spiritual abuse” is the act of misusing Biblical principles for one’s own agenda, and as a means to continue maltreatment of another.  Spiritual abusers will use Bible verses and faith concepts to justify their abuse and harm of another person; they will also use the Bible as a means to avoid changing their behaviour or taking responsibility for their poor choices.

Sounds like the perfect tool for the narcissist’s tool box.  A narcissist is not interested in ever taking responsibility for how they affect others, nevermind change their behaviour to stop the hurt.  On top of it, a narcissist will turn it on you and make sure you know that you are the problem.  Never them.  And spiritual abuse is just another facet of how they do this.

Here are some examples of what spiritual abuse looks like:

1. You are told you should continue bearing the abuse of someone, because Jesus was also abused and walked on.

Let’s get this one straight.  Jesus was persecuted for his faith, and He was walked on and eventually crucified to fulfill Old Testament prophecy.  The abuse and death he endured was for the salvation of mankind, not for the justification of an abuser’s actions.  The suffering you endure at the hands of a narcissist or other unhealthy person does not serve a greater purpose; in fact, the only purpose it will serve is to enable the abuser and keep them in their sin longer.  And that is not a purpose that God is on board with.  The Bible does not tell us to bear the sinful actions of others; in fact, we are told in several places to have nothing to do with evil actions.  Persecution for the sake of our faith (which we are told will happen if we are truly following Jesus) is an entirely different thing than being persecuted by another person’s sin.  It is pure evil, in my opinion, to use the name of Jesus or anything written in God’s Word to even suggest that someone’s abusive behaviour is justified or should be tolerated.  He came to make us free, not to put us in bondage to another person’s dysfunction.

2. When you question or call out an abuser for their behaviour, you are told you need to have more grace, or be more gracious,.

Grace is defined as the “free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”  Grace is God’s gift to us, to empower us to be what the Bible says we are; grace is not for enabling sin.  When an abuser (or an abuser’s enabler) uses the grace card on you, it is not really grace they are asking for; they are asking for you to tolerate their abuse and to quit speaking up.  They are expecting you to enable them in their poor behaviour the way that others in their world do.  Are we to give grace and allow someone to continue to mistreat us?  No.  In fact, Paul said that we are not to continue in our sin so that God’s grace will abound (Romans 6:1).  God himself placed boundaries around His grace to prevent it from being misused.  And narcissists are experts on misusing grace.  The very nature of a narcissist (never seeing their flaws or their responsibility in anything, never mind doing their part to repair and reconcile) make them a prime suspect of this manipulative use of grace.

Are we to extend grace to others?  Of course.  But using God’s own word as a guideline, we are not to use grace simply so that sin – our own or others’ – can abound.  And that is exactly what a narcissist does: their sin abounds, and they do not want to own or change their behaviour.  Giving grace to a narcissist can be very dangerous ground.  If someone in your world is telling you that you need to be more gracious, or expects you to extend more grace to them BUT IS NOT TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR BEHAVIOUR OR MAKING CHANGES, they are misusing the concept of grace to continue to abuse.

3. When you try to speak to someone about how their actions affect you, and they use Bible verses to justify their poor behaviour.

This is a common one I have encountered; a verse about “loving one another” or “bearing one another’s burdens” is slipped into a conversation where the abuser’s behaviour is being called out, and they don’t want to take responsibility.  A Bible verse is a sick tactic used to shift the focus of the conversation and to implore the victim to be more “loving” or “patient”.  This twisted use of Scripture holds some irony in it – an abuser uses God’s Word about love and patience, yet themselves show none of it.  Spiritual abusers do not think the rules apply to them, only to you, and only to shut you up and stop you from questioning them.

It is wrong for anyone to use God’s Word to justify any ongoing behaviour that wounds another person; God’s Word is meant to bring freedom, not to bind people further. Quoting Bible verses to others should serve to encourage another person, not to abuse.  Not to silence.  Not to shame.  Not to justify sin.  Period.

4. You are told to be more forgiving and let it go, because that is what the Bible says to do.

Yes, the Bible absolutely says to forgive.  However, to forgive does not mean to continue to be a doormat for someone’s abuse.  Here is the definition of “forgive”:

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Nowhere in that definition does it say “to continue to be abused and bear it silently”.  To forgive is to cease feeling angry, and to cancel someone’s debt; but it doesn’t mean we keep lending to them.  I once heard someone say, “Forgiveness is mandatory.  Trust is earned.”  When we forgive, it doesn’t mean we continue to make ourselves vulnerable and open to ongoing hurt and abuse.

When someone implores you to forgive but they don’t change their behaviour, count it as a red flag.  They are using the concept of forgiveness to control and to avoid changing.  Most spiritual abusers I’ve encountered want “forgiveness” so they don’t have to change, but have no intention of achieving true reconciliation (a process which involves both parties owning, acknowledging, forgiving, and changing future behaviour).  Remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things: you can forgive someone on your own, but reconciliation involves the efforts of both sides (something you will not get from a narcissist).

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Spiritual abuse is a common tactic for the narcissists out there who call themselves Christians.  It is just another way that they do what they know: To hurt people, and then to find any way to avoid responsibility or change, and to make everyone else the problem.  Unfortunately, spiritual abuse spins God and His Word in a negative light, and perpetuates lies about Him that keep people from wanting to know Him.

I feel grieved to think of the countless sons and daughters out there who have been turned away from their Heavenly Father because of how their narcissist parent twisted and misused His words and message.  If that is you, please know that God’s heart is the absolute opposite of what you experienced:  He would never damage you, and He wants to heal you and set you free.

The Silent Abuse of a Narcissistic Mother

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As a little girl, I knew my mom was different than other moms.

Other moms were kind, caring, and affectionate.

Mine was harsh, cold, and inattentive.

Other moms took their kids skating and to the playground.

My mom only offered me the back of her head as she watched her morning-to-night schedule of television shows.

Other moms played with them.

I eventually stopped asking my mom to play with me; the answer was always “no”.

When my friends would return to school after a sick day, they’d tell of their time spent cuddling with their mothers and watching cartoons.  They bemoaned being back at school and wished they could have stayed home longer.

I, however, couldn’t wait to get back to school after a day spent sick at home.  For me, those days consisted of being forced to stay in my bedroom alone; I was only allowed to come out to eat a meal or use the washroom.  And then it was back in my bedroom, while my mom watched her lineup of daytime television.  I have one memory of getting to watch “The Price is Right” with her on a sick day, and her reasoning was because the illness had been so severe it had warranted that small privilege.  Consequently, I couldn’t wait to feel better and get back to school; back to my lovely elementary school teachers who bestowed on me the warmth and kindness I so yearned for.

I knew my mom was different than other moms when I scraped my knee after skidding out on my bike on the road one afternoon.  I shrieked with horror to see the blood mixed with gravel, and feeling the tiny rocks and sand embedded in my wound.  Hearing my screams and crying, my mom stormed out of the house, pulled me by the arm across the yard, and hollered at me for making a scene.  I was rebuked for my reaction and for causing her embarrassment.  I shouldn’t have cried like that.  I learned that when I was hurt, to close my mouth and not have any needs; my needs got me in trouble.

I knew my mom was different when I spent an afternoon with my godmother and her son when I was about five years of age.  We went for a walk to the hill at the water tower, and I fell and cut my knee on some broken glass.  I remember holding in my hurt, and bracing myself for the tongue-lashing over the even small show of emotion.  I had been taught what happened when I cried or expressed my needs.  But instead, my godmother lovingly carried me to the nearby Family Resource Centre and Preschool, and bandaged me up with the supplies they offered.  I remember my little heart bursting over how kind she had been; why wasn’t my mom like that?   Oh, how I wished my mom was like that. Being jealous of other people’s loving moms was something I would become accustomed to.

I knew something was different with my mom as I grew older, too.  As I got more vocal in my teenage years, I was berated for being argumentative.  She never listened to me.  When I approached difficult topics with her, she threw up her hands, became the victim, and never heard the thoughts I would share.  I learned to scream and holler in frustration, which only caused me to get in more trouble (but at least it offered some temporary release).  I had so much anger well up in me; but my parent – my guide in this life – refused to help me with it.  In fact, she was the fuel to the flame, and then would defend herself in it. She never sought to draw out my heart and hear what the anger was about. She didn’t want to know. And so I held it in and suffered alone.

I knew all there was something different, something was “off” about my moms compared to other moms I saw, but I figured, “It’s just how she is”.  There was no one who understood, my siblings just shrugged it off, and I was left feeling alone and bewildered.

I started biting my nails in early elementary.  I developed a rich fantasy life as a young child; during the many hours that I was banished to my room, I would imagined someone coming to save me.  I easily developed crushes on boys, because I yearned for the love I didn’t get from my mom, or from my enabling father who was a workaholic and emotionally absent.  As a teenager, I started rebelling; I started abusing alcohol in grade 10, and by grade 12 I was partying every weekend.  I dated guys who weren’t good for me.  I lied to everyone around me because I didn’t want them to know.  At 20, I was diagnosed with depression and started taking medication.  I was still biting my nails.

But mom was just mom.  She was just different than other moms.  Oh well.

Meanwhile, I was falling apart and didn’t know why.  I was drowning my wounds in whatever I could find that was still socially acceptable enough to appear normal.

And the worse part was, I was berated by my mother for the very symptoms she had caused.  I was gross because I bit my nails; I should stop.  I was persecuted emotionally because I had rebelled. I was dirty because I had done the unspeakable (have sex before marriage).  I was crazy because I struggled with depression.  All of these things were used as tools against me, and reasons why my thoughts and feelings were never validated.  I was ostracized and my failings and my flaws simply made me easy prey.

Into my early adult years, I started getting help and healing for the wounds.  I began pulling back the layers slowly, and started realizing that I was not the problem; I was not crazy, and I was not the cause of the emotional symptoms I had experienced.  Maybe I wasn’t just flawed, after all.

But the dynamics with my mom continued.

I remember one situation very clearly, that marked the beginning of my pulling back from her.  I was pregnant with my first child, and we had been visiting my parents.  My husband had to go back to work, so he left and I stayed a couple of extra days by myself.  While out and about shopping with my mom, the subject of a particularly toxic ex-boyfriend came up (he had been abusive to me in very similar ways that my mom was – and he may as well have been satan incarnate, for how much she liked him).  I mentioned that he was a friend of mine on Facebook (because at this point, I had healed from the relationship and only saw him as someone who had once been important to me); my mom was indignant at this, and responded that her and my dad had seen he was on my friend list.  She got very upset, and tore up one side of me and down the other; how dare I keep in contact with such a terrible person?  How dare I keep in contact with him when I am now married?  Did Kris know about this?  I assured her he did and didn’t care, that he trusted me and didn’t feel threatened by some dysfunctional guy I had dated when I was 19.  I called her out on her awful behaviour, and told her how ridiculous she was being.  How was this about her, I demanded to know?  How did she have the right to be hurt – of all things – about this decision I had made that did not affect her?!  Of course, that escalated it further, and she clammed up, as she always did when she knew she was beat. With lips pursed (I can still see this common expression of hers so clearly), she didn’t say another word to me.  We got back to their place, and I went my room and wept, pregnant belly shaking.  I couldn’t believe she had treated me like that, carrying a child nonetheless.  As I lay there, I wrongly assumed that if she knew just how upset I was, she would surely feel remorseful and make it right with me.  (I can see now that I suffered for many years with Stockholm Syndrome and trauma bonding – the only way to explain that I still had hope that she would be kind.)  I went upstairs to speak with her, and got another tongue lashing; her defenses all came out, she threw up her hands as she’s always done, and reminded me why she was the poor victim of her disrespectful daughter’s awful behaviour.  This was a small turning point for me: that she would be so insensitive and abusive to me – while I was carrying my child – didn’t sit right with me.  I was starting to see that this had always been the norm. But seeing it and trying to beat it didn’t stop it.

Her abusive behaviour and manipulations continued, and only worsened as I started speaking against it.  She has perfected the victim deflection, and my enabling father took part too. I started putting up boundaries, and they reacted harshly.  The Christmas I was pregnant and near my due date, my anger finally blew one day. Tired, overwhelmed, and annoyed, I lashed out at them for not helping at all when they stayed with us; I was carrying a child and was not feeling well, and thought that was normal that parents would want to help lift the load off of their pregnant daughter.  But instead of help once they knew how I felt, they tore into me about how ungrateful I was and how ridiculous it was that I expect help; my dad told me later that “my behaviour” had ruined Christmas for everyone.

One of the last times we stayed with my parents, this abusive dynamic played out yet again; they locked my husband and I (pregnant with #2 at the time), and our 2 year old son, out of their place after we had gone to the beach early one morning.  They didn’t call to tell us they were leaving and didn’t leave a key.  When I confronted my mom after hours of driving around waiting for them to come home, I was told I was being mean, and given the usual run-down of victim-speak.  I now knew that this was the norm, and there was no working things out with her.  But I was the problem, right?

Not knowing what else to do, I continued to speak my mind, willfully hoping they would eventually hear me; the conflict only escalated.  They started trying to find reasons for why I was acting like this towards them, but never pointed their fingers inward. Even though I had been off of anti-depressants and feeling great for a number of years by now, the family made assumptions that my “poor behaviour” was due to depression, or I wasn’t handling mother hood very well.  They couldn’t understand why I was acting the way I was. I was clearly the problem, not them.

With two young boys now in my life and in my heart, I delved further into healing so that I could be free to be the mother I needed. I wanted to be the mother I wished I had. And as it turned out, motherhood became my redemption.  Motherhood was what opened my eyes, over a period of many years, to what I was really dealing with.  I started waking up to realize that I could never imagine treating my children the way my mom treated me.

I took my kids to the library and the park, I sat on the ground and built train tracks, I chased and wrestled and giggled.  I was open to hear my kids tell me when they hurt my feelings, and I owned it, apologized, and made it right.  None of these were things I had experienced as a kid.  And I began seeing that how I was raised was not normal.  It was the opposite of normal. And it had affected me greatly.

Motherhood showed me that what I had experienced growing up (and as an adult) was not just “mom being mom”; it wasn’t just that my mom was different than other moms.

As I delved more into this, and began reading about it, I was shocked to fully realize what I had experienced as a child had a name.  There were words to describe what I had been victim to.

Psychological abuse.  Emotional abuse.  Neglect.  Gaslighting.

My mom wasn’t just harsh.  Or dysfunctional.  Or just different from other moms.  My mom was abusive. My family system was abusive.

In addition to this, I came to learn that my mom has the covert version of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  And that is what they do to their children.  The lack empathy, they project, they defend, and they neglect.  They look after themselves first and foremost, and lack the basic instincts to care and nurture for their children beyond the basic necessities.  They twist the truth, make their children question their sanity, and are never open to hearing and reconciling conflict.  But will tell everyone else you are the problem.

Narcissists are incapable of empathy.  If you look to them for the nurturing, caring, and empathy that you needed as a child and a mother should provide, you’re looking in the wrong place.  They will not provide it, and looking for it will give them another reason to rebuke you for your errors and prey on your weaknesses.

All of that is just one part of the abuse.  The second part of the abuse is that they will never admit these things; they will never own any of it, never mind change their behaviour when they know how it affects you.

People with NPD can never recognize their faults.  In their minds, they just don’t have any.  They’ve never done anything wrong, therefore there is nothing they need to take responsibility for.  If you’ve been hurt, it must have been your fault.  If you bring something to their attention, they will flip it on you and become the victim.  They will tell you things like “I’m always the problem”, or “I can never do anything right” to avoid having to own their actions and apologize.  (And this act works with many of the people around them.  Some of these mothers have Munchausen Syndrome, in which they also create illness in order to be seen as weak and remain the victim.)

And change their behaviour?  Never.  They don’t need to change.  It’s you who’s the problem.  And on top of it, if you address their behaviour, your memory and your sanity will be questioned.

They will round up an army around them who will take their side and who will defend them to the death; they will always make excuses for their poor behaviour.  “Mom just doesn’t know any better.”  “She doesn’t mean anything by it.”  “Don’t be so hard on her – she’s old.”  She is an expert at appearing weak to remain the victim; as long as she is the victim, she will never have to be responsible or have to change her behaviour.  And she will always have a group of people who she has convinced of this, so anyone who questions the dynamic becomes the monster.  Never her.

She will gaslight you, and raise her children to be expert gaslighters too; if you have a problem with her, you must be depressed.  That memory of her lying to you or hurting you?  You’re remembering wrong, that never happened.  You’re just being over-sensitive and making a mountain out of a molehill.  That’s silly.  And her army of supporters will do the same thing to you.

She will project onto you the very thing she is and does.  She was the one who struggled with depression and lied about the purpose of that little blue pill on her placemat every night, but it must be you who has depression and isn’t ok.  She was the one who acted poorly and hurt people’s feelings, but somehow it’s you who does that.  She was the one who hurt people and could never apologize, but she will find a way to say that it is you who always does the hurting.

But the worst part of all of this, is that it’s hidden.  People outside of the family will rarely see these things; heck, people inside the family are often blind to it too.  Narcissists are experts at keeping up a facade of being a great person, a great mother, a great wife.  But behind closed doors, they are something different.

Nobody knew my mom locked me in my room every afternoon until I was 6 to make me take “naps” while she watcher her afternoon line-up of soap operas.  Nobody knew my mom forced me to stay in my room for days at a time when I was home sick.  Nobody knew my mom never taught me about sex and periods.  Nobody knew my mom lashed out at me and never heard my heart.  Nobody knew my mom didn’t comfort me when I needed it.  Nobody knew my mom, ironically, was the biggest reason I needed comfort.  Nobody knew there was a little girl who was dying inside who was waiting for someone to come and save her.

But no one came, because no one knew.

Survivors of narcissistic abuse usually suffer alone, because it’s often not obvious what is being done to them.  If they were to speak out, people usually don’t believe them.  Very frequently, the siblings themselves often can’t or won’t acknowledge it either; either they were the golden child who didn’t receive the same poor treatment, they’re suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and can’t see or admit to the abuse, or they are fearful of speaking out.

Sometimes we ourselves have a hard time pinpointing the abuse.  We spent a lifetime being gaslighted – told we were crazy, too sensitive, imagining things, or simply telling lies.  Our inner guidance system is like an engine who’s wires have all been disconnected, so trusting our gut is something we have to relearn.  Many of us who have suffered this type of abuse have a hard time trusting ourselves, because we’ve spent so much time suffering alone and coming to the conclusion that maybe we really are the crazy one.  No one else seems to notice, so maybe we are the problem after all.

What also makes the abuse difficult to see, is that Narcissists work really hard to keep up a facade that would refute anything that would accuse them of their behaviours – they are often well-liked people, are active in church communities, and even adopt children (more on that in a coming post, as I was adopted).  We don’t have physical scars to prove what was done; we only have a wounded heart and the lingering symptoms of trauma (nail biting, depression, anxiety, trust issues, hyper-vigilance, just to name a few).  And, we’ve been taught to be silent.

Often we’re not only taught to be silent, we’re threatened to remain so.  To speak out would be to expose the lies and the entire dysfunction system that the family works with.  The narcissist has their army’s full loyalty, and anyone speaking out will be the victim of more gaslighting, smear campaigns, and control tactics.

Speaking out is literally to stand in front of a firing squad.

Well, here I am.  I am speaking out.  Let the weapons fire.

Is it easy to speak up?  No, it’s not.  Isn’t it disrespectful to speak up, to tell the stories of others’ flaws without their permission?  No, it isn’t.  The very person who tries to hide the truth is the one who needs to be exposed.  A person who sees the wrongs they have done, and have sought reconciliation, aren’t scared of their stories being told; only the abusers who are still hiding their abuse are the ones who are scared.  It is not my job to protect the very people who should have protected me and didn’t.  It is not my job to protect those who hurt me and have never sought to make it right.  It IS my job to be honest, and to heal.

So honest I will be.  Because to heal, we need to speak.  We need to expose this stuff, so that even while we’re in the arena bleeding, we can let someone else know we’re here in the thick of it, and we’re doing okay.  Honesty about our stories encourages other people to step into the arena to take back their life.  Sometimes we need to see someone else do it to know that we can, too.

Because maybe there is someone out there who also knew their mom was different.  But hasn’t been able to really put their finger on it.

Maybe someone reading this is finally having their abuse validated, and feels a glimmer of hope thinking that maybe they are not inherently unlovable and worthless.

Maybe this will help someone who has struggled because they didn’t have the love and nurturing they needed as a child.  I hope this helps someone out there know that it wasn’t them who was the problem.  I also hope it helps someone realize this isn’t normal, and that they were done wrong.

So if you are also a survivor of the psychological abuse from a narcissistic mother (or any narcissist, really), I want to say, I’m glad you’re here.  Your experience is valid.  Your feelings are valid.  You are not crazy.  You are not the problem.  You are worthy of love and empathy.  You are loveable.  Having a narcissistic mother leaves a child alone and damaged, but the damage is repairable.

There is hope.

Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.  – Ephesians 5:11

Please Stop Telling Adopted People to be Thankful – and 9 Reasons We Don’t Need to Be

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As an adopted child, I’ve heard every ridiculous comment about adoption you can think of.  My whole life, I’ve had to navigate awkward conversations, questions I didn’t have answers for, being called names like “bastard”, and being asked why my mom didn’t want me.

But the worst one?  The most cutting one?  When people tell me I should be thankful.

Recently I had two family members on different occasions rebuke me for speaking out about my lack of intimate relationship with my mom.  One of their reasons they used to try to silence me?  I should “be more thankful” that my parents saved me.  Because, you know, adopting me was so selfless and sacrificial, and that should nullify any hurt or negative feelings I had or have.  I’m not showing my thankfulness very well if I am open and honest about my childhood.

But the sad thing is, this attitude isn’t just from family members who are upset about me sharing.  I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed from various places my whole life.

It’s an attitude that needs to stop.  It is hurtful and damaging to an area where there was already so much damage done.  Being adopted is a damn hard road for those of us who walk it, and we don’t need it to be any harder.

So here are 9 reasons why adoptees don’t need to be thankful:

1. Our lives began with major loss.

As adoptees, we experienced major loss at a very young age; we lost our mothers, our chance at a secure attachment, and often times we also lost a sibling or siblings.  Can you imagine as an adult losing all the people that matter most to you, in one foul swoop?  Never mind for that to happen when you were a vulnerable, innocent infant?  Can you imagine if someone were to take you away from everyone and everything you know, and put you in a group of strangers and told you this is where you’ll live now?

But we should be thankful for this?

2. We had to become someone else.

I don’t care who you are, your heritage and your genetics matter.  They are part of who you are.  As adoptees, all of that gets erased the minute we are adopted.  All of a sudden, we have to assume a new identity; we are often given a new name, a new family, a new heritage to take on as our own.  Often there is no more mention of our heritage or our family of origin.  Our genetic makeup, our geneology, and our cultural background is lost and forgotten, and we are given a replacement set of those things that we must accept and become.

But we should be thankful for this?

3. Information about our past is hidden or kept from us.

This one is not always the case, but in my case this is true, and for lots of others.  My adoptive parents knew that I had Indigenous and Scandinavian roots.  They knew I had an older sister.  They knew my birth mom had brown hair and brown eyes and had a small, slight frame (just like me), and they knew she had an aptitude for art and language (like I do too).  They knew my name was “Melissa Joan Carlson” when I was born.

That information belonged to me, not them.  Yet, they hid it from me.  I never got the privilege of knowing that my skills and talents were genetic, that I bore a striking resemblance to my mom, and that – above all – I had a sister somewhere out there.  Growing up with 5 older brothers, I always dreamed of having a sister.  But I was never allowed the right of knowing any of that.  I remember dreading the “Family Tree” unit that would come every year in school, because my true heritage was taken from me, and without apology.  I didn’t know where I came from, and that is an unsettling feeling.  Giving us a replacement family tree and a fake heritage doesn’t fix it.  We live like imposters being told who we are supposed to be.

But we should be thankful for this?

4. We often grow up in a culture of shame.

My parents hid the fact that I was adopted.  They did tell me, so I give them kudos for that at least.  But very few people beyond those that were around when I showed up at 15 months old ever knew I was adopted (and I attribute that amount of honesty to the fact that they had to explain my appearance somehow!).  And that’s the way they wanted it.  I was told it was better if people didn’t know; I would simply get hurt and people wouldn’t understand.  They said they were protecting me, but I know it was themselves they were protecting.  But I complied, trusting their word.  If people know I am adopted, they won’t like me.  Tell me – do you hide those things you’re proud of, or the things you’re ashamed of?  I didn’t have words to put to it, but it created a deep sense of shame within me to know it was a taboo subject.  If it was something to be hidden, it must be bad.  I must be bad.  I carried that burden for many, many years.

On top of that, I was never allowed to talk about it or ask questions even at home.  I remember having questions burning in my heart, but I knew they weren’t welcome.  In fact, even as an adult, my husband made the mistake of asking my parents what my original name had been – to which he received a sharp kick in the knee under the table from my brother, and an explanation afterwards that “we don’t talk about that”.  The indignant looks on my parents’ faces were a harsh reminder of the silencing and the psychological and emotional abuse I had endured growing up regarding my adoption.

But we should be thankful for this?  

5. Our birth mothers (where we come from) are often shed in bad light.

There is an assumption that if a woman gives up a child for adoption, they obviously weren’t fit to be a good mother.  And that assumption may be true in some situations, though certainly not all.  But to shed a child’s birth mother, where they came from, in a bad light is not only selfish, but damaging to a child’s identity.  How do you think it feels to have someone assume you came from a prostitute or a whore?  How do you think that affects the heart of a vulnerable child when you speak with disgust about the woman who bore the child you are now privileged to raise?  Growing up, I never once heard a positive word spoken about my birth mom.  Never once did we pray for her, talk about what a brave thing she did, or how much she might miss me.  We hardly talked about her at all, and the things that were said were hushed whispers about what a screw up she must have been.  Children aren’t idiots – when you talk about where we came from in that way, it affects them.

But we should be thankful for this?

6. Lots of adoptive parents lack the tools to deal with the issues an adopted child might face.

This is especially true, I think, for those adoptees who are now adults.  (I believe, and hope, these things have started to change.)  My parents had an attitude that they would just bring me home, raise me like my brothers, and all would turn out fine.  They never sought out courses on parenting adopted children, on attachment issues, or reached out for help or counsel in any capacity.  In fact, I would even say there was an arrogance displayed there; an attitude of knowing how to raise kids already, because they had done this 5 times before.  I was expected to just adapt, and to never have issues.  But I did have issues; of course I did!  My birth mom had given me up, I had spent time bouncing around foster homes, I was neglected and physically sick for that time, I probably had trauma behaviours, and I was suddenly put in a family and expected to simply adapt.

And on top of all of that, I knew I was not to bring any of it up.  That hole in my heart was never given a voice; it just continued festering through my childhood, until I finally was able to seek help and healing once I was outside of my parents’ care.  So when people say, “but they did the best they could”, I don’t really agree.  And if that really was the best, it doesn’t mean it was good enough.  And it doesn’t mean they did right by me.  And it doesn’t mean I came out unscathed.  They never sought help, asked for support, read parenting books, or even admitted they didn’t know what they were doing raising an adopted child.

But we should be thankful for this?

7. Our adoptive parents are made out to be selfless saints.

Let’s face it – how good do you feel when you are the subject of pity?  How wanted would you feel if someone asked you out on a date and then told it they did it as a humanitarian effort?  As adopted children, we are often made out to be some charity case, and that is not okay.  Adopted parents wanted children, just like biological parents did.  No one fawns over a biological parent and tells that what a selfless act it was to procreate and bring a child into the world who wouldn’t have been otherwise.  So why would we do that to a adoptive parent?  People do it because adopted children are made out to be unwanted; praising adoptive parents perpetuates this attitude.  (And an even worse step is, “Oh, good for you.  But I could never do it.”  I won’t even touch on that one.)

Another sad reality is that a lot of children are being adopted by the very people who are looking for this attention.  Healthy parents are always looking to pour out of themselves into their children, and aren’t looking to get something back.  Often times, with adoption, a mother (or father, but often it’s the mother) adopts to fill a need.  (In my case, it was a need for a daughter, but it can also be a need to look good in the public eye, or to seek praise or recognition.)  Right from the get-go, this is a dangerous situation; it was never my job to fill a need for my mom.  But not only was I supposed to fill a need, and be the perfect little princess for her (my identity was taken away and I was made to be who she wanted me to be), but she gets praised for being a selfless saint for adopting me.  So this act that appears so selfless to some people, is actually the opposite, and creates further damage to the heart of the adopted child.

But we should be thankful for this?  

8. I would still exist if I hadn’t have been adopted.

The truth is, if my family wouldn’t have adopted me, another family would have.  Perhaps even a family that was healthier!  Of course, maybe a family that was more dysfunctional could have adopted me.  We’ll never know.  But the point is, I still would have had life without my adoptive parents “saving me”.  Biological children don’t feel the need to thank their parents for conceiving them, do they?  For “saving” them from the plight of non-existence?  Are biological children told they should be thankful their parents had some hot sex that one night and got pregnant with them?  No!  And in fact, if any child should be thankful, it’s the one who wouldn’t even exist unless their parents had fornicated at that exact moment.  I don’t go around telling people to remember to be grateful their dad and mom had intercourse and his sperm fertilized her egg, because they wouldn’t be here without that.  That’s ridiculous.  It’s just as ridiculous for anyone to expect an adopted child to live in a forever state of gratitude because someone took pity on them.

But we should be thankful for this?

9. We are talked about like we are stray dogs that someone took in.

One common theme that runs through all of these points, is that they all come from an attitude that adopted children are unwanted.  No one sees adoption as a humanitarian effort unless you see it through the lens of “nice family takes in poor, unwanted child”.  If we were to see it as, “family gets privilege of raising and learning from this child, and growing into a mutual love and bond” (and I’ve seen this attitude in adoptive families, so I know it exists), people wouldn’t say these things and hold these attitudes.  It doesn’t feel good to be looked at this way, especially when we already have other heart issues to work with.  Don’t add to it.

But we should be thankful for all of this?

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Please stop telling us to be thankful.

We shouldn’t be pressured into being thankful for things that non-adopted kids aren’t pressured into being thankful for.

And for the record: I’m not thankful that I was placed in a home that not only didn’t recognize my unique needs, but ignored them and then used them against me when I did start speaking up.  I’m not thankful that my being adopted is used as a means to manipulate me into allowing poor treatment of myself and my family, and then to silence me about it.  I’m not thankful that I am told that putting up healthy boundaries isn’t showing gratitude like I should be.

So no – I’m not thankful for any of that.

But you know what I am thankful for?

I’m thankful that in the midst of brokenness, God was there.  And still is.

I’m thankful that it was never His plan for me to be hurt or damaged.

I’m thankful that He had a will and a way for my heart to be healed, and that he put people in my life who support that path.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to find ME – the real me.  I’m thankful to discover my heritage, my past, and my birth siblings.  I’m thankful for the parts of me that have been woken up, and to see how much genetics do play a part in who we are.  I’m thankful that after years of missing this, I now have people in my life who are related to me by blood, and that we can compare looks and mannerisms and quirks.  I never had that growing up.  I am thankful for it!

I’m thankful that my brokenness as a child has helped me become the mom that I am.  I am thankful for the redemption I’ve found in parenting, that I can be the mother I never had.  Sure, I make mistakes, but I am thankful I learned to hear my kids, validate their feelings, own what I’ve done, and ask for forgiveness.  I am thankful I am able to do for them what my little heart screamed for as a child.

I am thankful when I see adoptive families who do this differently.  I find hope to see adopted kids’ needs be acknowledged and met.  I am thankful to see adoptive parents seek support and knowledge, and put their kids’ well-beings above their need to be praised or thanked.

I am thankful for a husband who has loved and accepted me in my mess.  Who has held me as I’ve cried.  Who’s listened for hours when I’ve had revelations about the past, or pulled back a new layer of my heart.  Who has bore the most brunt of my woundedness, but loved me anyways.  Who is on the same page as me and wants to grow as a person too.

And you know what?  I am thankful for my adoptive family.  I’m not thankful for the reasons I’ve been told I need to be, but I am thankful.  God turns all things for good, and He has certainly kept His promise.

Lastly, I’m thankful to have found my voice and courage to speak up, even in the face of pressure to stay silent and keep things hidden, so that others can hear the truth and find support and freedom we all need.  I would be even more thankful if I knew these words resonated with someone and helped them, which is what my heart truly is.

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Please feel free to share if this resonated with you,

or you feel someone would benefit from hearing this!

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* I suspect already this post will receive some heat, either to my face or behind my back.  I have been told that to speak out when you’re not reconciled with people involved is not okay.  Here are my thoughts on that:  1) Reconciliation only occurs when both parties will acknowledge and validate the others’ feelings, take responsibility for hurts both ways, ask for forgiveness, and then change future behaviour.  All of those things have to happen for true reconciliation to take place.  2) If the door has been open for that to happen, and it has not been walked through, it is no longer my responsibility.  My openness is my responsibility; I am not responsible to make other people open to this.  And truthfully, it may never happen, so my life needs to continue regardless.  3) I am not going to hinge the fate of my calling on someone else’s life choices.  4) These actions were wrong the moment they happened, not the moment I decided to share about them.  5) It is not my job to protect anyone, but it WAS their job to protect me, and that didn’t happen.   6) This is the most important one to me: I have been inspired, changed, challenged, renewed, healed, and encouraged by the stories other people have taken the courage to share.  A lot of those stories were shared in the absence of reconciliation (because then it would hinge on other people taking part), but in the presence of pure motives and a heart for those who would read it.  It is a risk, for sure.  But I’m diving in.  And above all, I care more about what God has called me to do, then what other people think.  I will not allow the enemy to shut my mouth to the things God has called me to open it about.  He is my refuge, even when the storm rages.