Dancing with Dysfunction

I’m loyal to a fault.  Walking away from something I give my whole heart to is extremely difficult for me.  Especially relationships.  I’m learning that I was hardwired this way.  Meaning when I commit, I commit my all.  When I love, I love my all.  And when I hurt, I hurt my all.  

What’s the old saying?  Your greatest attribute can be your greatest downfall?  Well, I certainly fit the bill.  I’ve experienced love so profound that it’s hard to put to words.  My marriage and kids being at the top of the list.  I’ve also had relational hurts that have been so intense I wasn’t sure I would make it through it.  When a relationship would sour, I’d walk away feeling pain and a sense of failure, restless with questions on whether I could have done something differently.   

Pain. It is part of the human experience, and one of the things that helps us grow to maturity. But for some of us the pain we have experienced feels crippling. Broken promises, dysfunctional families, damaged relationships and rejection keep us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. Sometimes it’s a challenge just to get through the day, let alone to extend love and strength to those around us.

– Chip Ingram

What is it for you?  The place that you’ve experienced some of your deepest pain.  Separation from a child?  Divorce?  A dysfunctional family member?  Betrayal by a trusted friend?  Rejection by your inner-most confidant?  Whatever it might be, if you are anything like me, you inevitably have stared this pain in the face wondering “Will I ever be OK again?”  

Relationships are and will always be complex.  We are human. They take work. But, what I had failed to consider for the past twenty-five years of my adult life, is that I’m not expected to stay in ALL relationships at ANY cost.   When a relationship shifts from having a few hurdles to becoming routinely destructive to your well-being, then it is most certainly time to consider a change.  As Jesus warns us in Matthew 15, failure to recognize this reality will lead us to fall into the pit alongside the dysfunctional.  I now recognize that saying goodbye to a relationship that has become destructive to my mental health CAN be biblical.

Let them alone; they are blind guides.  And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.

Matthew 15:14

In those years, I believed the lie that it was somehow unloving to require people to treat you in healthy ways.  The hardest part of navigating my way out of a dysfunctional relationship was the guilt.  There was self guilt that maybe I hadn’t cared enough by tolerating long enough.  If your enemy strikes, turn the other cheek as well, right?  Well, sort of.  There is a wide gap between forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Then, there was the guilt that I felt from others that perhaps I was acting too harshly by requiring boundaries althogether.  For some looking in, it was much easier for all involved to just to ignore the dysfunction.  They were willing to tolerate it, so why wasn’t I?  These were usually my conflict adverse friends and family.  Each time I heard it, it felt like a gut punch; like they were choosing them over me.  It certainly wasn’t intentional on their part, but I definitely received it that way. It is so clear to most that physical abuse should not be tolerated, so why does emotional abuse continue to be foggy at times?  We are left bruised and battered in both situations.  

I’m convinced that, like misery, dysfunction loves company.  An unmistakable sign of a dysfunctional person is that they will make you feel as though you are the one who is crazy.  One clinical term that quickly comes to mind is narcissist.  Boy, have I met a few! They distort reality to feed their dysfunction, mostly at the expense of others.  Truth is manipulated and even denied for their benefit in an effort to cover the offense.  They are masters of the blame game and masking their brokenness.  Responsibility…..well, they claim none.    It will feel as though you are literally beating you head against a brick wall. 

If you’ve felt alone in relational predicaments that are destroying the best of you, know that you are not alone.  It is ok to put space between them and you!  But, be prepared for pushback.  Most unhealthy people will not meet your requirements.  Instead they will choose to walk away or toss the ball back in your court.  Although they are the ones who probably need boundaries the most, they are the ones who will probably respect them the least.  Trust me.  I’ve seen it happen up close and personal.  Taking responsibility requires maturity and humility.  

Jesus also understands this relational pain at a core level.  I can only image what it would have felt like to be kissed on the cheek by Judas, a beloved disciple, signaling His arrest to the soldiers of Caiaphas.  My blood boils just thinking about the injustice of it all. The disciples were his innermost circle, having traveled and done life with Him for months. Jesus would lay down His life for us, and Judas hijacked His trust…..all for a few pieces of silver.   

I suspect we’ve all experienced the kiss of Judas at one point or another in our lives. I certainly have.  For many years I made the mistake of attaching a portion of my identity to the sins of a dysfunctional person.  When I look back, these were all places where trust had evaporated long ago.  Instead of creating space, I often became part of the problem when I cared more about rehabilitating their dysfunction than they did. 

When betrayed by humanity, Jesus knew who He was and where His identity was rooted.   Likewise, we must also root our identity in God alone. God gets the final judgment. He is the end all, be all.  Alpha and omega.  No one else.  Once fully grasped, you can release yourself from the dysfunctional stress of others, knowing who you are fully in Christ.    

As Lysa Terkeurst writes in her book Good Boundaries and Goodbyes, “you can’t enable bad behavior and call it love.”   God does not expect that for Himself or us.  Over and over, we see relational boundaries laid down by God.  Adam and Eve, the Israelites….and the list continues.  Healthy boundaries prevent dysfunction from destroying what God intended love to be.  It exchanges bitterness, resentment, and anger for peace, kindness, and trust. Best of all, it allows us to care for and love others while not losing ourselves!

xo Carre

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