How to Heal from Unhealthy Family Patterns
- Thursday, March 29, 2012
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dave Carder, Earl R. Henslin, Dr. John Townsend, and Dr. Henry Cloud's book, Unlocking Your Family Patterns: Finding Freedom from a Hurtful Past, (Moody Publishers, 2011).
Sadly, family problems tend to repeat themselves down through the generations. But the good news is that you can stop a hurtful cycle and be the one to help bring healing to your family. Here’s how you can heal from unhealthy family patterns:
Hold onto hope. No matter what mistakes you and others in your family may have made, you can learn from them and make better choices in the future. Ask God to give you the fresh sense of hope that you need to motivate you to pursue healing.
Don’t expect time to heal your family’s wounds. Ignoring family problems won’t make them go away. Instead, your family’s problems will probably get worse the longer you go without dealing with them. Let go of excuses you’ve been using for not getting better, and decide to do whatever it takes to recover. Start the healing process now.
Acknowledge that all (not just some) family members need healing. It may be tempting to blame your family’s problems on certain family members who act out their issues in more obvious ways than others do. But be honest about the fact that each family member shares the pain and the responsibility for the dysfunction that you all experience your family. Give your fellow family members grace, too, keeping in mind that you’re all likely doing the best you can right now. Rather than making a few family members scapegoats, work together to pursue healing.
Identify resources that can help your family heal. Find out about Bible verses, books, blogs, radio shows, podcasts, seminars, classes, retreats, Bible study groups, support groups, counselors and other resources that your family can use during the healing process. Decide together which resources would be most helpful.
Learn from how Jesus interacted with His family. Read the Bible’s accounts of Jesus’ interactions with his earthly family, and notice how He chose God over family when the two conflicted. Just as Jesus emphasized the importance of each family member’s freedom to follow God’s individual call on his or her life, give yourself and your own family members that same freedom.
Notice any unhealthy patterns from your family of origin that may be repeating themselves in your current church family. The unhealthy attitudes or behaviors you learned in your family of origin may predispose you to look for an unhealthy church where people have the same or similar attitudes or behaviors. Was your family abusive? If so, you may fall prey to abusive church leaders. Did you become accustomed to sexual immorality growing up? If so, you may be drawn to a church where members don’t bother to live the sexually pure lives God calls His people to live. Did your family lie or gossip regularly? Then you may tolerate the sins of lying or gossip among your congregation without confronting those sins as you should. If you discover that you’re in an unhealthy church, ask God to show you which healthy local church you should join, and then make the move right away.
Learn how to trade shame for God’s unconditional love. Pour out your thoughts and feelings about your family’s problems honestly to God, and confess whatever shame you may feel about them. Remind yourself of God’s unconditional love for you, and recognize that God never wants you to feel shame, because it’s natural to struggle in a fallen world and you’re incredibly valuable to Him. Pray for the ability to see yourself the way God sees you. As you move forward, keep in mind that God loves you just as you are, but He also loves you too much to leave you there. Rely on God’s help every step of the way as you work to heal from family wounds and develop a healthier family.
Learn how to bond with other people. If you’re having trouble establishing and maintaining close relationships with others, identify what causes you to avoid getting close to people. Are your family relationships distant or estranged? Have you gotten negative responses from family members when you’ve tried to be vulnerable with them in the past? Have you trusted people before, only to have them betray your trust? Once you’ve discovered the issues behind your trouble bonding with others, begin healing by seeking out one or two relationships with people you know you can trust and trying to bond with them. Take emotional risks with them by opening up about your thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to feel your own need for close relationships, and accept comfort from these safe relationships. Learn from your mistakes as you go along, and keep in mind that God will never forsake you and will always give you the grace you need to grow.
Learn how to set healthy boundaries. If you grew up with unclear or inappropriate boundaries in your family, you may have problems setting healthy boundaries in your life now. Symptoms of boundary problems include: a sense of your life being out of control, trying to please other people, feeling obligated to say “yes” to requests when you really want to say “no,” trouble communicating honestly and directly, difficulty keeping up the demands of your commitments, anger, anxiety, and depression. Once you’ve recognized the specific boundary issues you’re struggling with, pray about each one, asking God for the courage you need to start setting boundaries in each area of your life that you need to improve. Expect people to resent your new boundaries until they get used to them, but rely on God for the strength to stand firm, knowing that your effort is worthwhile.
Learn how to deal with imperfection by accepting and passing along grace. Realize that every family in this fallen world is imperfect. Ask God to give you the grace you need to accept the reality of weaknesses, failures, and sins in your life and the lives of your family members and the hope you need to encourage regular confession, repentance, and growth in each other’s lives.
Learn how to become more mature. If unhealthy family patterns have stunted your personal growth, ask God to help you grow up to become the person He wants you to become. Become aware of your opinions and don’t hesitate to share them, even when you must respectfully disagree with others. Take responsibility for your own mistakes rather than blaming others. Treat all other adults – including your parents and spouse – as equals. Discover, develop, and use the unique talents God has given you to help make the world a better place.
Keep forgiving and healing. Remain committed to forgiving your family members and other people who hurt you, since God calls you to do so and He keeps forgiving you. Pray for the patience you need to continue the healing process, which may take a while, but will lead you and your family into a better future together.
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