Breaking the Cycle of Abuse



Richelle’s terrible twos arrived on schedule; I recall an incident that ignited the flames of the past, that attempted to spark a fateful future for both of us. I cannot remember what set me off but I know I was frustrated and angry. I started yelling at her, she ran from me, so I chased her. She had a short lead on me and I found my-self chasing her around our living room table, I reached out and almost had her by the hair. The familiar scenario hit me hard as I halted myself; Richelle ran and hid under the table. “What would I have done if I had caught her” rang out in my head.
My mother easily would go into fits of rage. (A spilled drink or a fight with my father, frustration usually the motivator.) She yelled so I knew to run and hide. Sometimes she chased me, we ran around the dinning room table. She caught up to me and grabbed whatever she could, an arm, my shirt, sometimes and my hair. She uncontrollably slapped everywhere on my body. It would become harder if I struggled.
It all rushed back when the rest of America and I, witnessed a woman caught on videotape beating her 4-year-old daughter in a South Bend, Indiana parking lot. I almost felt the stinging of my mouth from the continued slaps across my face and the pain from my hair pulled tightly in her fists. The memories of my own childhood replayed in my mind each time I saw the abuse of the little girl on the news.
I felt justified in learning what I endured so many years ago is labeled �abuse� since the woman in South Bend was eventually arrested. With the scenes on the news, I realized that the cycle of abuse did not pass down from me to my children.
Determined never to allow the cycle of abuse to pass down to my own children, I made some serious changes. The Lord equipped me to break the dysfunctional pattern, and replace it with a loving, stable and safe home for my children. After I assured Richelle that, everything was OK; I coaxed her from under the table and gave her a big hug. I apologized for my actions and told her it would never happen again.
I kept my word. I was lucky I had a neighbor who I was able to call and drop Richelle and her baby brother off with for the rest of the day. I took steps to change how I treated my children, contrary to how I grew up through prayer, forgiveness, changed relationships and self-control. These steps were not over a long period. I acted fast during this almost, serious incident with my daughter in order to change the way I related to her.
Prayer. I returned home and went to my bedroom; I kneeled beside the bed and confessed my problem, I asked for forgiveness and help. I begged for strength to overcome my childhood and for the future relationship with my own children. I opened my Bible and claimed the scripture; �I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:16 NIV)
The Lord showed me every kind of hurt that I endured as a child. He then gave me the strength to remember the images that replayed in my mind. Some of the images were minor and others were terrifying. These were not new memories, just old ones that I never dealt with, filed in my brain under “confidential.” I cried uncontrollably aloud for courage; with every instance of new images, God gave me the strength to handle it.
Forgiveness. I had never forgiven my mother for her uncontrolled actions. I read �Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.� (Colossians 3:13 NIV) I claimed that scripture and knew that the Lord�s forgiveness to me meant I should also forgive my mom.
I set an empty chair across from my bed and pretended to seat my mom in it. I began to tell her all the things she had done to me, recalling all the images that I had recently encountered. I told her how much they hurt me. Sometimes I screamed, sometimes I cried, but I got everything out. I even briefly had my father set next to her so I could voice my complaint to him for not doing anything about the abuse.
Then I did it. I forgave her and all of her actions. I felt lighter than air with my release of the past that held me captive for so long. The forgiveness did not justify her actions; it freed me from holding on to them. Then I turned the whole relationship with my mother over to the Lord. I knew that for the time being it was best to avoid contact with her until I had a grip on the relationship with my own kids.
Changed relationships. I called my mom and politely told her that I thought it was best we not see each other for a while. While on the phone, I had the Bible open to, �Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.� (1 John 3:18 NIV) She became angry but I did not fall under the guilt and condemnation that used to control me. I knew that it was up to the Lord to deal with my mom and her feelings. I never yelled or became upset; I remained calm in my spirit. I told her I forgave her. She did not want to hear it so the call ended abruptly; I stayed in peace.
Next, I asked the Lord to help me figure out how to have a loving relationship with my kids in order to raise them the way He intended. I found a verse that helped me to know I was on my way up in my relationships, �Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.� (Psalm 71:20 NIV)
Self�control. I asked the Lord to show me what to do if anger with my kids ever arose again. I needed proper ways to vent and a plan of action for prevention. The Lord showed me, �But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.� (1 Thessalonians 5:8 NIV)
I wrote down verses on the full armor of God in a spiral notebook and set it next to my bed. Every morning I would pray on the full armor of God before getting up. Then I found some index cards, wrote encouraging verses on them, and taped them all over the house. In the bathroom, in the kitchen, in the kid�s bedroom, in the family room and even in the car. Every room had an appropriate verse that I would see to remind me of the good He is doing in our family.
With my self and my surroundings armed with the protection God had given me, I came up with a plan for when I did become frustrated. I have an unfinished basement that I decided would become my �venting� place. I had an old couch down there with a couple of throw pillows I could scream into instead of screaming at the kids. I put my childhood Bible on the couch to remind me of what it was like to be a kid. I had an old phone I plugged into the unused line on the wall and a paper with numbers of friends on it. I underlined the ones who I knew would watch the kids if I needed and put a star next to the ones who would listen if I needed to talk. Finally, I put a lock on the door so I would be able to separate myself from the kids if I had a problem so they would be safe. I went to my computer and got on-line reserving books on anger management from the library.
Late that afternoon I felt secure with the way the Lord equipped me so I brought my kids home. I have implemented all these actions in dealing with the kids and still use them today. The good news is that there has been no chasing around the living room table since.
Editor’s note: While Rhonda was able to break the cycle of abuse on her own with the Lord, many people will find they need a support group or counseling to completely break the cycle. If you find yourself loosing control with your children, do not hesitate to call your church or a local Christian counselor for help. Seek help immediately before things escalate.
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