Healing Through Overcoming Family Past

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In my life experience of working with people who are seeking after God, there has been a noticeable characteristic of people’s responses to God being affected by past parental relationships.

I have seen children from abusive family situations that felt great apprehension at the thought of even talking to God, fearful of His rejection or of some sort of mistreatment by Him. I have known women who were making an effort to seek after God, but because of past abusive relationships with fathers and ex-husbands, could not emotionally handle the intended positive analogy in Scripture of paternal characteristics in God. Though Scripture makes clear that spiritual beings are neither male or female, since God often uses the analogy of a Father to illustrate to us certain positive characteristics that can be seen in earthly fathers, people can, without being aware of it, project bad attributes particularly from fathers (but also mothers and any other person seen as an authority figure) onto God. Throughout my career, I have made it a point to remind people that God’s fatherly characteristics are those of, not just a good father but, a perfect one, since God is perfect and that concept has been helpful to them.

There is a term in psychology when dealing with boundary violations that is called a withdrawal of love. An example of this emotional violation is when a parent who is displeased with the child, whether for poor behavior or even just behavior against the parent’s personal preferences, responds with anger.

Even if the child’s behavior was ethically unacceptable and needed some form of discipline, the discipline included more than just corrective action; it was carried out with types angry behaviors which portrayed that the parent no longer loved the child due to his behavior. Parents like this, often unintentionally, also display behavior that conveys to the child that his actions were a personal insult to the parent. This results in a performance-based relationship. “If you do what I like, I’ll love you. If you actions/choices displease me, I’ll withdraw my love from you.”

I have been eternally grateful that I did not have the extreme negative experiences with parents as did many of my peers. It appears from the stories of my peers, my parents were, though no one but God is perfect, above average in their positive treatment of myself and my brother. A friend who returned with me to my home several times to visit my parents joked about how unbelievable it was that my family actually liked each other; he insisted that I was raised in “the Cleaver” household, a reference to the 1960’s program, “Leave it to Beaver.” However, it has been amazing to me the more I study psychology, how much, even in a situation with fairly positive family history, past parental interactions affect my present relationships, even my relationship with God.

Thankfully, in spite of negative parental relationships like what is described above or those that have been physically and/or emotionally abusive, God makes it clear that His relationship with us is love-based, not performance-based.

Romans 8:35,37-39 describes it this way, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This passage illustrates that no negative circumstances can separate us from God’s love. Since it is so adamant that no circumstance in all creation can separate us from His love, I believe it stands to reason that this level of security is still the case whether the circumstances are caused by those who do not love us properly or even by our own failures. For those who still fear that their own imperfection will bring about a loss or withholding of God’s love, especially when it has proved to be the case with parental love, these next two verses bring great comfort and relief. Psalm 27:10 says, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” And in Isaiah 49:15,16, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

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Being a perfectionist by nature, it is difficult for me to overcome anything that I view as a personal failure.

Yes, Scripture does exhort us to “Aim for perfection (2 Cor. 13:11),” for moral and spiritual excellence. However, after talking to my brother some years ago about a situation in which I was emotionally “beating myself up,” he said to me, “Who are you trying so hard to be perfect for?” He rather shocked me, and, realizing the grace of God didn’t give license to my feelings, I stumbled out, “Myself, I guess.”

In addition, I became aware of the “withdrawal of love” boundary violation from my own childhood during some study this past year.

During a recent series of crises, I sincerely felt that some of the issues were either caused or enhanced by my own mistakes. While seeking God’s wisdom and assistance to work through these situations, it was apparent that there was an emotional struggle which was affecting my faith in His responsiveness. A passing remark in a sermon about performance-based relationships caused me to realize that I was indeed, rather subconsciously, applying the “withdrawal of love” boundary violation experienced in childhood to God’s response to me in my time of need. I was feeling that any mistakes of my own in this situation would cause God either to respond unenthusiastically to my need or not at all. It is almost beyond belief how these emotional situations from the past hold on, to the point that one can rationally know something is not the case, (i.e. know that I am under the grace of God and that He responds to me with mercy) yet the past emotional baggage still keep him or her from a state of actively believing/having faith in God for help. While contemplating this issue, God reminded me of a passage that I had come across in the Amplified translation of Hebrews 4:15,16.

“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize and have a fellow feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning. Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace–the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners; that we may receive mercy for our failures and find grace to help in good time for every need—appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it.”

Now let me abbreviate the above verse, and slightly paraphrase for the purpose of sentence structure, so the main points beneficial to us are easier to focus on.

“We have a High Priest [referring to Jesus’ in His work of salvation] who sympathizes with our weakness and the assaults of temptation. Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us [unearned, not performance-based] that we may receive mercy for our failures and find help for every need—appropriate help, coming just when we need it.”

As mentioned in some prior articles, it takes repeated, conscious effort to replace the recurring thoughts that are less than truth (from deep-seated, past emotional experiences) with rational, actual truth.

This passage was a starting point for me. I have been repeating it, pondering it, and quoting it out loud to eventually override my incorrect emotionally driven thoughts—thoughts that God won’t help me out of problems due to my own failures–with the truth with which He describes Himself in Scripture.

Using Hebrews 4 and the other 2 aforementioned verses, these are the truths I am working to establish in my mind and spirit.

1. No circumstance separates me from God’s love.

2. He has promised to never forsake or abandon me.

3. He does feel sympathetic toward my struggles.

4. Because the relationship is love-based, not performance based, I can let go of the false fears.

5. I can confidently seek and expect His favor and perfectly timed supernatural help even during times of failure.

Breaking free from projecting the relational difficulties between our parents and ourselves onto God is a major step for anyone in experiencing either physical or emotional healing.

Many physical ailments are caused by emotional hurts. Even if the physical ailment has solely physical origins, overcoming the habit of projecting onto God the image of a performance-based relationship between yourself and Him frees you to accept His unfailing love for you and be receptive to His help. You can believe yourself “worthy” of receiving because God’s loving responses to you will always be based on His unfailing love, not your perfection.

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One Response to “Healing Through Overcoming Family Past”

  1. Anxiety – Quick Self Test | ReceiveHealing.com Says:

    […] you may wish to consult with a therapist or pastor for assistance. Also read through the posts: Healing Through Overcoming Family Past Forgiveness or Reconciliation: Understanding the […]

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