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A Lesson in Boundaries – When Someone’s Gate Shuts in Your Face

by | Jun 24, 2019 | Articles, Boundaries, Emotional Abuse, Learning | 49 comments

I’ve been stuck.

You know the feeling? When your mind, like a record needle caught in a scratch, annoyingly loops on repeat? I’ve been stuck like that.

Let me try to explain, but first, a little background. I love relationships with people. People have always fascinated me, and I enjoy them, quirks and all. I’ve always gone into new relationships believing the best about the other person. Believing they are, deep down, good people with good intentions. Giving them the benefit of the doubt. Trusting that they will contribute to our relationship in a mutually kind and respectful way. I can get stung over and over again, and I will go back and try again. Historically, I’m forgiving and long-suffering to a fault. Even when the other person is unable to take responsibility for their behaviors and can’t say they are sorry for anything. Even when the other person has to be right all the time. When the other person’s worldview has to reign supreme, and I’m not allowed to express mine without getting an earful or the silent treatment.

At least, I used to be that way.

Over the past few years I’ve learned what boundaries are and how to implement them in my life. I’ve finally accepted the truth that not everyone is willing or even able to contribute to a mutually satisfying relationship in which both parties are respected as individuals with equally valid perspectives on various issues. Finally being married to a man who does do this has helped me see how dysfunctional so many of my prior relationships have been. How I’ve let myself be used in those relationships.

I’ve been told it is abusive to point out abuse.

Nope. That’s not true. Pointing out cruel behavior is not abusive. Cruel behavior is abusive. And hiding it or pretending it doesn’t exist only perpetuates abuse. Abusive people count on others to be polite and keep their mouths shut. They stand prepared to hang whistle blowers with all the worst labels, and we all know it. Right? So we quietly put up with their abusive behavior in order to protect…what? Our reputations? Our abusive friends and family? Our peace of mind? Probably all those things and more. Calling out abuse is a horrible position to put yourself in. And if you’re anything like me, you want to be nice and kind and have peaceful relationships with everyone, and calling someone out on their cruel behavior feels so mean, going against the grain of who you are and what you feel inside.

Over the past few years, I’ve blown the whistle and been burned every single time. It’s like lighting the sticks under your own stake. Every time I do it, I get ready to burn. I get ready to lose people I love. People I thought loved me. I get ready for the harsh truth of reality to turn my rose colored world to ashes.

I won’t lie. It hurts.

Someone told me the pain I feel is my own fault. I’m doing it to myself, and I just love drama. That’s one of those tall glasses of lemonade with a rabbit turd at the bottom. A poisonous cocktail of confusion. But please remember that Truth + Lie = Lie.

Let me explain by going back to the witch burning analogy.

Remember in history when women really were burned at the stake for being witches? Were they truly witches? Nope. And the fact that they insisted on their innocence rather than “admitting and repenting of their witchcraft” is exactly why they were burned. So, did they burn themselves? Were they the cause of their own horrible demise? No. I mean, yes in that if they would have told a lie, they could have lived.

“Historically, a confession was the single best way for the court to gain a conviction and an execution for charges of witchcraft. The irony is that none of the accused Salem witches who confessed were convicted or executed but all 19 people who refused to confess were found guilty and executed.Source

I’m not going to sugar coat this dilemma. If you call out abuse, you will be burned at the proverbial stake. Many women have literally lost their lives when they tried to get away from abuse. Hundreds of thousands of Christian women have lost their church families, their families of origin, their reputations, their children, their financial stability, their homes, and their health for calling out abuse.

I’ve talked to many women in the thick of it who believe death is better.

One woman I know took action on that a few weeks ago and succeeded. Her blood is on the hands of abusers in her life. God sees it. God knows exactly what happened.

Abuse is a great unseen holocaust. (Small “h” – not to be confused with the historical Holocaust – capital “H” – that killed millions of marginalized Jewish people in Germany.)

So back to the beginning. I was stuck.

I was stuck because I blew a whistle publicly and made people mad. And I don’t like to make people mad. I like to make people happy. I like to make friends – not enemies.

Here’s what I wrote on my personal Facebook wall:

Tom and I are not invited to my nephew’s wedding. Similarly, we weren’t invited to the family gathering my sister and her husband hosted in their home after my dad’s funeral last year.

My ex-husband was invited to both.

To be clear, I only have two sisters. Our children grew up together and have countless memories together. I watched my nephew grow up, and I love him and wish him and his new bride the best. But his mom and dad (both conservative evangelical Christians) have shunned me since my divorce and remarriage, and it appears their negative feelings toward me have been passed on to their children. My other sister and her husband and their children have been nothing but kind to me.

I’m not going to talk about how these things affect my life and the lives of my family here. But I do want to draw attention to them in order to make a point.

One of the insane things about abuse is that it hides, and if the victim comes forward to disclose it, she is labeled the bad one. “Why can’t she just leave well enough alone? She must have an ax to grind. Why is she airing dirty laundry? It’s better to keep family secrets—secret. She’s being negative. She’s unforgiving. She’s bitter. She just wants attention. She wants everyone to feel sorry for her. And this is only her side of the story. What about his? Or theirs?”

And THIS is exactly why people do unkind things like this. They can. It works. They look like good people if their victim says nothing (nobody knows what they did – they get away with it) – and they look like good people – victims even – if their victim says something (the victim is a “playing a victim” which is decidedly out of fashion in civilized society.)

I wanted to go to my nephew’s wedding. I wanted to celebrate with my family. I also wanted to mourn with my family after my dad’s funeral last year. I’m a human being who desires to love and be loved within a warm, emotionally and spiritually safe family. Just like every human that has ever existed.

But I divorced my ex-husband and have been told I am a “bitch.” So I am unworthy of celebrating and mourning, loving and being loved, within my family of origin.

And I will no longer pretend this isn’t happening or that it is okay.

And, like I said, some family members got mad. See, where I come from it’s okay to be mean, but it’s not okay to call it out or say “stop.” That’s the unspoken rule. I wanted to believe they would see how hurtful their collusion with this sister was. I wanted to believe they loved me as much as they loved her. That my feelings were just as important as hers. But I knew from a long history that I was loved only when and if I colluded with the beliefs, perspectives, and narratives of my family members. I wasn’t allowed to show up as me. I was only allowed to show up as an extension of them. As a player in their drama. And I always got the worst bum roles.

You guys, I am exhausted.

I don’t want to live like that anymore. Contrary to the opinions of critical people, I don’t enjoy drama. I’m an introvert who just wants to drink coffee and read books and write blog post articles. And I don’t think it’s worth it to be in close relationship with people who don’t see me and don’t want to. I just want peace in my life. I want to surround myself with mature, kind, respectful, normal human beings. Like my husband. I told him the other night, “You are the most NORMAL person I’ve ever been this close to – other than good friends from high school and college. I love living life with you!”

But here’s where I was stuck for several weeks. I felt guilty. That’s right. You could call me Natalie Guilty Hoffman. I’ve spent my life feeling that I’m a bad person because I just can’t make everyone around me happy enough.

Here’s the pattern in my life, and tell me if it sounds familiar?

  1. Someone does something mean. They cheat. They lie. They steal. They hit. They fill-in-the-blank. Can I go down a bit of a rabbit trail here? It is NOT MEAN to have a different opinion and to express that opinion like an adult. It isn’t mean to not enjoy the pie someone brings to a party. It IS mean to talk about it with other party-goers though! That’s the kind of opinion you can keep to yourself. It isn’t mean to have a different political viewpoint from someone else. It isn’t mean to have different color or hair preferences, but it IS mean to talk about someone else’s preferences behind their back as if they are a brainless idiot for liking the color blue over the color red. It isn’t mean to take your time fixing your hair or to have a messy house. But it IS mean to rag on someone’s home and appearance just to make yourself feel good for having a perfect home. Do you see the difference? These things seem like a no-brainer to me, but I’ve lived in the Alice in Wonderland world of abuse for so long, that I really believed I must be the oddball for thinking this way. That there must really be something wrong with me. Now I know I’m actually the normal one.
  2. I point it out. “Hey, you cheated. Stop it.” “Hey, that’s not true. You’re lying. Stop it.” “Hey, you just took that from another person. That’s stealing. Stop it.” “Hey, stop blaming me for what you did. Take responsibility.” “Hey, you just hit me. That’s mean. Stop it.” Seems reasonable, right?
  3. I find out it is absolutely NOT reasonable to point out the mean thing. I find out I’M THE MEANIE! To cheat, lie, steal, hit, or whatever isn’t the bad behavior. It’s the calling it out that’s the unforgivable sin. I feel confused and guilty. People are mad at me for pointing things out. I was supposed to look the other way and pretend I didn’t see it. Didn’t experience it. If I say “That hurt” or if I cry I am accused of being too emotional. Too sensitive. Too bossy. Too picky. Too rude. Too self-pitying. “Self-pity is of the devil.” “You’re such a bawl baby.” I’m always trying to get attention. Making everything all about me. Self-centered. Vain. Obsessed. So yes, with all these messages coming at me, a girl who only wants to be loved and accepted like everyone else, I felt guilty for not measuring up. If only I could be more kind. More selfless. More quiet. More relaxed. More loving. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
  4. I say I’m sorry and ask for forgiveness. I was told that I could not be in relationship with others unless I initiated an apology every time I made them unhappy. I got the silent treatment until I drummed up the wherewithal to lay aside what I knew to be true and accept an alternate reality where I was always wrong, and my perspective was always mistaken and unwanted and assuming and delusional. I would say I was sorry for screwing up again, and I would ask for forgiveness.
  5. The family member would graciously bestow forgiveness upon me, and I would get to be in relationship with them again. This felt so good. Such a relief would wash over me. It was like going from being cast out like a leper to being invited back in where it was safe and warm. I was loved again.

As an adult, I look back on that and see how screwed up it is. But because that was the only thing I knew, when I married my first husband, and the dynamic was exactly the same – it felt totally normal. I was in so much cognitive pain all the time, I had to rely on a lot of denial and self-abasement just to get through those dark years. My conservative religion helped me beautifully by keeping me fed with a steady supply of misogynistic lies.

So here I was – really, really, REALLY wanting to just be done with this weird, controlling family dynamic where you never know where you stand – but I felt guilty about walking away from those relationships. Keeping the peace and maintaining relationships – even destructive ones – has been woven into the fabric of my life from a very young age. To walk away felt so wrong. But every time I considered it, I felt such a sense of relief as well.

I spent several weeks riddled with anxiety. I had a hard time sleeping. Night after night I had horrible nightmares. I could feel myself slipping into a depression. I knew I was preparing to let go. I was grieving.

But what I really wanted was a way to frame the entire experience in a way that made sense. As you know, if you are a victim of psychological abuse, there is a lot of confusion even over the most simple truths. Life is constantly going sideways when you live with someone like that. I’m still learning how to walk in a straight line at times!

I finally got a breakthrough.

A REAL breakthrough. I was writing in a journal, and one of the questions asked me to think about a recent experience in which I had a chance to practice boundaries. I thought about this experience – with my sister being nasty and my calling her out – and then my other family members getting mad at me for that, and it hit me. If we think about boundaries as being each one of us taking responsibility for our own home and yard – and the fence around our home and yard is our boundary, it all made sense. Here’s how. I’m going to tell this story in terms of boundaries, and see if it doesn’t make everything fall into place:

“Once upon a time there was a woman (let’s call her Rose) with a house and yard. She had a party and invited her family members to the party. All except one. She didn’t like that one (let’s call her June), so she left her outside the gate. Rose had every right to do this. It’s her house and yard, and she can invite whomever she wants. But June felt bad. She could see her family members inside Rose’s yard, and she longed to be part of the family that she belonged to.

A couple of her other family members came over to the gate, smiled, and said “Hi!” as if nothing was amiss. June said, “I’ve been left out. I wanted to be there. I feel sad and discarded. I feel angry too. Why doesn’t Rose like me?” Her other family members shrugged and said, “It’s not that big of a deal. You don’t have to get all emotional about it. Lighten up.” And they walked away leaving June feeling lonely and sad.

June noticed that some of the people at the party were glancing over at her, whispering. She wondered if they were talking about why she wasn’t there at the party. She yelled out, “I WASN’T INVITED! I WANTED TO COME, BUT I WASN’T INVITED. IT SUCKS. WISH I WAS THERE HAVING FUN WITH YOU!”

Some of them called out, “We are sorry! We miss you! We feel bad you’ve been left out, and we don’t think it’s right!” June felt a little better. Maybe she wasn’t crazy, after all. But then a couple of family members marched over with scowls on their faces and said in harsh whispers, “STOP IT! LEAVE IT ALONE! WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD?!” and they huffed away, leaving June alone again.

June thought about it. She had a choice. She could do what she always did under similar circumstances, and she could call out, “I’M SORRY! I’M SO SORRY FOR WHATEVER I DID, AND I WON’T DO IT AGAIN! I’M A BAD GIRL, AND CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME! I PROMISE TO KEEP MY MOUTH SHUT AND JUST SMILE AND NOD!”

Or she could respect their right to leave her out, and she could walk away.

So she walked away.

The end.”

Once I saw the story in terms of boundaries, I was totally set free. My nightmares went away. I could sleep. I was no longer looping. I felt like a million bucks! I WAS FREE!!

You see, my sister has boundaries, and my other family members have boundaries, and if they don’t want me in their lives, that’s okay. But I also have boundaries, and if they treat me like they love me one day and like they hate me the next, I have a right to get off that merry-go-round and be done. So after 50 years, I’m done.

And about that guilt…

It’s completely gone.

49 Comments

  1. Marie

    I’m a pastor’s kid and was steeped in patriarchy from birth, with my older brother literally being commissioned as my guardian upon my birth. He took his role so seriously that he actually expressed sadness that my (now ex-husband) didn’t ask HIS permission to marry me in addition to my father’s. I’ve fought a long weary road without much knowledge or support until just recently beginning to make sense of what ‘hit’ me. A bruise and broken ribs would’ve alerted me so much sooner than the emotional and psychological wounds I am recovering from. I am recovering from CPTSD. My older brother, who is a pastor himself, actually told me that I would basically be responsible for my 7 year old’s possible future trans-genderism if I continue to consider my ex as emotionally abusive. Because, according to him, a young boy won’t want to become a man if he fears that to be a man means to be abusive. WHAT?! I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling my brother exactly what he could do with his unsolicited ‘advice.’ I found it ironic that he didn’t once mention my daughter and what she might think about her sexual identity to have a father that literally called his rapidly-chosen new girlfriend a ‘free babysitter’. I recognize that my ex’s behavior toward me doesn’t define him as a person nor does he represent all men everywhere. He had emotionally abusive patterns with me and remains in denial of them which is why we are no longer married. He was and still is an unsafe person for me. That’s the truth. I continue to believe in one’s ability to make choices and make change. A man doesn’t have to stay abusive any more than a woman has to stay a victim. It’s not an identity it’s a belief system.

    Reply
  2. Michelle

    Unbelievable Natalie! It would be one thing if both you and your ex were not invited to these events (still a total betrayal!), but for your ex to be invited is just beyond the pale. The “secondary” abuse in your case has got to hurt even more than the abuse you suffered from your husband because your sister is supposed to be your tribe, your people. Amazing the self-righteousness of some “Christian” folks! So sorry for all you’ve been through; so glad God has given you beauty for your ashes and that you’re so willing to put yourself out there for others’ benefit. Thank you always for that!

    I appreciate your bringing up family of origin stuff because really, that’s where these patterns are set that make us seek these people out in our adult lives. We’re conditioned to please in our FOO ‘s, being groomed to always put ourselves last, be “nice”, continually compromise our integrity, sacrifice our children’s well-being for the sake of family, etc., etc., etc.

    A blog that has been more helpful than I can adequately describe is called
    narcissists-suck dot blogspot dot com. Anna (a pseudonym) deals with FOO pretty much exclusively and her journey with a very narcissistic mother and sister; and an enabling father. All the dynamics of these relationships are succinctly detailed – and whoa, it’s life-changing if you put the time in there. What she has to say has been far more helpful than any books I’ve read on the subject. Cold bucket of water to the face, in the best way possible! The only way to be free is to deal with truth and reality. Denial only serves to enslave us longer. (As you so well know and explain repeatedly on this blog!) It’s an old blog, but she keeps it up because she’s said that it’s her revenge on the narcissists to help people be set free from these horrible familial patterns. She’s a Christian and brings in scripture, but she doesn’t hold back on these types of ungodly systems — she exposes them in ways that make you finally see what you’ve been up against.

    One more thing. I’ll paraphrase a though I stumbled on lately —
    If you want to know who controls you, look at the person(s) who you cannot criticize.
    Exactly.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      That sounds like a great website – thank you for the recommendation! I will definitely check it out. I get a lot of requests for information on dealing with FOO narc abuse. This sounds perfect. You hit the nail on the head when you said these folks are supposed to be my tribe. YES! That’s why the betrayal is so profound. When your own family only loves you if you agree with them, you finally realize you were never really seen, known, or loved. It’s profoundly painful. I’ve found so much comfort in realizing it isn’t just me. There are bazillions of us who can relate to one another, and that gives us a new tribe.

      Reply
  3. Rosemary Patchen

    Thank you for sharing this, you have helped me more than you know. I seem to always have a way of making an crisis in our family, MY FAULT! I am always sorry. It is such a heavy burden and I realize I need to stop this thinking! It is like having a huge weight around my neck. I was responsible for adult behavior in my family of origin since I was 10 years old. I learned that it was my responsibility to keep the peace and make everyone happy at all times. I am now 67 years old, married 48 years,raised 3 daughters and taught school for 25 years. For the first time in my life, I think I am finally “getting It”. To release this need to take care of everyone and all of their issues will allow me to fly FREE! I sincerely appreciate your help! Thank you again, Natalie!!! FLY FREE!

    Reply
  4. Ann

    Natalie,

    This was a powerful article and came at the perfect timing for me. But I am still stuck on one issue. How do I deal with my feelings about my loved ones, friends etc, that are at the party and say “We are sorry! We miss you! We feel bad that you’ve been left out, and we don’t think it’s right?’ I feel hurt, angry, betrayed, etc by them and I even feel like they should go to bat for me and stand up for me. I know this kind of thinking is harmful to my emotional peace and I want to heal but this is where I am stuck. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this issue.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Well, when you think about it – there isn’t anything they can do about it. They are empathizing with you, and they believe what the other person did was wrong – but at the end of the day, they have no control. For me, I am okay with those kinds of folks exercising their own choice to go to the event. What I’m not okay with is anyone who tells ME to not have or express my own feelings about being left out. Or telling me to stay quiet and pretend nothing happened. That’s abusive.

      And again, I’m not talking about a friend here. I’m talking about immediate family members that we all assume love and care for us. Those people can go to the party, but I guess if I was in their shoes, and they left out one of our family members on purpose – someone who wanted to be there – I would tell them that what they did wasn’t right, and I would reach out to the marginalized member and let them know I empathized with them and believed what they were going through was valid and painful. That I loved them and communicated on their behalf. That would be the kind thing to do.

      Reply
  5. Boldly walking away

    Natalie,
    I have read every single article on your blog and listened to every podcast over the past year. I have shared it with many friends who do not understand the nuances of covert emotional abuse, but who earnestly want to and long to support me. The Lord led me here EXACTLY when I needed a name for the sense within me that something was “off” in my marriage and in several of my family of origin relationships. I couldn’t articulate it then…but YOU COULD AND YOU DID AND YOU DO. You hit the nail on the head every. freaking. time.
    Once again, I received your email about this post at the moment I felt my soul being crushed yet again by my very own sister. I fell asleep last night shaking and sobbing after yet another one of her head-spinning rants that included name-calling, mischaracterizations of me, blame-shifting, lying, defensiveness, and general impenetrability. It goes without saying that I “deserved what I got.” I mean, if I wasn’t so “overly sensitive,” and if I wasn’t a “lunatic” who “thrives on drama and BS and all this other nonsense” and who “reads too much into things”… (You know the drill.) My mom sure hopes I can TRY to see things from my sister’s perspective so that we can all have peace and happiness. Of course.
    It was when I found myself experiencing what I now know is a trauma response that I knew I can no longer have contact with her. I prayed this morning, and the Lord gave me strength and clarity in this decision. Within a couple of hours, I received your post in my inbox. I felt peace and tears of freedom wash over me with every word. EVERY. WORD.
    So grateful for you and your ability to stand in what you know, to recognize that the cost of staying in soul-sucking relationships is far greater ultimately than the cost of leaving them, and to articulate God’s love for women so clearly. He sees, He knows, He defends, He protects, even when our own family members do not.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Wow, that’s unreal. God’s timing is amazing, isn’t it? And here I thought I was just writing a long, somewhat boring blog post. It’s stunning to me how the stories are like cookie cutters. The dialogue is the same. It’s a drama that just replays itself over and over. Time to write a new story, right?

      Reply
  6. Venice Liston

    This is so me i can so relate to this my story is similar to yours Natalie concerning family .. Thank you for sharing, I dont feel so alone..

    Reply
  7. Dawn

    I hope you know without doubt that the work you do and the insights you share out of your own suffering and growth have immeasurable value for those of us walking a similar path. You have a unique ability to think through the fog and confusion and pain and find truth and hope. I trust God grants you strength and hope and peace and overflowing of love into your heart and life and those of your family. I would wish you could be cloned so even more broken women could be helped through your ministry.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Thank you. God IS raising up oodles of us. We are all learning and growing – and changing our world, one story at a time. (((HUGS)))

      Reply
  8. Cindy

    As I read your article, two words came to mind: Silencing and crock-pot trauma.
    In the military, the Academy honour code reserves a special fate for those who they believe are guilty even though there is insufficient evidence. It is Called “silencing.” Each day the cadet eats alone, lives alone, insulted, and is basically shunned by others. Now evidence proves isolation is deadly to newborns/infants. But, at what age do we grow out of it?
    Crock-pot trauma. It is sorta like a metaphysical “silencing.” It is low-grade trauma and ongoing damage done to the psyche of the person involved. It increases ever so slowly with the passage of time. But, how do we put words to a trauma like that?
    I also enforced boundaries with my sister and she ended our relationship. Now, this isn’t temporary—this is permanent. If I only had 1 day left to live, there is no way in hell she will come be by my side. And you know what makes it so hard? Because back when we were two adorable little girls, “we’ve climbed hills and trees, Learned of love and ABC’s, Skinned our hearts and skinned our knees, we had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.” That’s why.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      My hurt literally aches as I read this. That last line. Also, I had never heard of crock pot trauma, but that’s exactly it. And it is extraordinarily traumatic. The military wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t effective. 🙁

      Reply
  9. Tina

    This was so good. Thank you so much for sharing the painful experience and for putting into words how the lights came on when you viewed it through the boundaries lens. I really loved the Rose and June analogy and that really helped me get it. Wish you could use that same example in regards to marriage and a husband who doesn’t want to be committed to me for the long term. (He might, but can’t say for sure.) Thanks for spelling out how you have gone from confusion to freedom. I love hearing what you have to share!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Tina, you can absolutely use that story for your situation with a husband. Just change Rose’s name to George. 🙂

      Reply
  10. J.J.

    I’ve been reading your blog for years (back when you started Visionary Womanhood and mostly just wrote about homeschooling!), but I’ve never commented until now. Truthfully, when the tone of your blog changed and became about relationships, marriage, abuse, etc., I was so disappointed. I felt like the homeschool community has lost a good one to feminism and the Victim Camp. But I was wrong. Dead wrong. And I’m so sorry for ever wishing you would just stay silent “for the sake of Christ,” (craziest argument EVER now that I’ve heard it for 3 years!).

    I am gratefully in a loving marriage, but in other family relationships, I can relate to all you said almost WORD. FOR. WORD.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing about this topic. I am still in a place where I don’t are say anything about what really happened publicly, even though I know we have been shunned, ostracized, and lied about. I’m still holding onto hope that perhaps the truth will come out and genuine repentance and restoration can take place. In the meantime, I find myself clinging to your words and find and element of reprieve because someone else gets it.

    Keep writing, Natalie!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      This was wonderful to read. Not wonderful to know that you have experienced this kind of deep pain, but wonderful that the Holy Spirit of the Living God is moving in spite of the enemy tactics to hurt, kill, and destroy God’s children. He takes our pain and uses it to bring more of His kingdom on earth. He takes victims and makes us VICTORS. But you’re right. Pretending it doesn’t hurt or that it isn’t real doesn’t advance the kingdom. Accepting reality and taking responsible steps to deal with it appropriately is what will change our lives and the lives of those we touch. Thank you for commenting. Finally. Heh heh. 🙂

      Reply
  11. Jennifer Jenks

    I am sorry that you have had to go through this, Natalie. I have had similar situations with my family, so I know firsthand how painful this can be. Thanks for sharing your post. It is really helpful and clarifying. Think about the following verse, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” I think this applies to you. You have a loving husband and hundreds of us in Flying Free that love you! Hugs – Jennifer Jenks

    Reply
  12. Chris Hayes

    Saw this today and I feel like it applies here. Thank you for being kind instead of NICE!! #nicesucks
    Kindness speaks up. Nice is toxic.
    Kindness is healing. Nice lies to keep the peace.
    Kindness knows the only way to make peace is to tell the truth. Niceness holds back.
    Kindness moves forward with humility, gentleness, and grace.

    (There was a nice graphic with it but I couldn’t figure out how to paste it.

    Also I am reading “Changes That Heal” by Henry Cloud. I love what he says about Truth and Grace:
    “Truth without Grace is judgment” “Grace without Truth is License” “Grace and Truth together invite us out of isolation and into relationship.” ” Real intimacy always always comes in the company of truth.”
    From what I read here and in God’s word (Eph 4:25 & others), unless we speak truth, the falseness that results will never bring true relationship. Sadly, it sounds like your family values NICE over true relationship. I think this is common. But how sad.

    Thank you that you are helping us all to understand the deeper truths about who we are and what genuine relationship should look like. <3

    Reply
  13. Leslie

    Oh Natalie! I can relate to every bit of your story! I am sitting in a “bucket of tears” while reading this, not only for your pain, but mine as well. I love your word picture of the yard and fence, and turning and walking away from the painful gathering. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  14. Susan (Red)

    I am speechless I’ll just say Thank you so much!

    Reply
  15. Lisa

    I shared this post on my FB and immediately had someone say it blessed her and that I had “posted it just for her” which obviously, I had no idea. Thank you! For opening your mouth, for speaking YOUR truth and for the work you are continuing to do. Awareness, it’s key to change. So many in “Christian” circles are living the dynamic you describe. You have an entire tribe of women you are standing side by side with you in this battle for God’s daughters! Just keep swimming! xo

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Lol. I love Dory. Thank you for this. It was a long post – and I honestly thought it would bore people half to death. So I’m glad it has been helpful!

      Reply
  16. Mindy

    Natalie, you are an amazing gift to the world… I am so thankful you were born … your candor – your transparency – the wisdom you’ve gleaned from your own suffering – is emotionally liberating so many of us. You are deeply loved, cherished and appreciated by so many. So much beauty from ashes ❤️

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Oh thank you. Lots of folks wish I hadn’t been born, so it’s nice to know some people are okay with my life. 🙂

      Reply
  17. G

    After years, I see the emotional and verbal abuse my mother bestows on me. I’d love to walk away. Problem is that it’s not every time and it’s only me. She doesn’t treat my kids the same and doesn’t treat me poorly in front of them. So I take one for the team so my kids can have a grandmother. Just recently however, she is starting to be rude to my daughter (age 7) and she was rude last year to my 18 year old son. My son is amazingly perceptive and knew before I divulged to him about them. I was going to confront her about that one but he asked me not to because he felt equipped to handle it. (As background- I thought she was normal and parented correctly when my son was little and I followed in her footsteps. But God got my heart and after years of my personal counseling and therapy with my son, he and I have a wonderfully repaired relationship.) so now I have come to the time when I have to act because she is being rude to my daughter in front of my other boys. I don’t see this ending well. I honestly don’t know how to best help my kids through this process. It’s so scary.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I feel your pain. I’m in the same hard place – knowing my kids love their relatives and don’t understand the subtle dynamic. Heck, if we couldn’t figure it out until now, how could they? I say take it one day at a time. I figure it will unfold naturally, and I don’t want to rush it or make it happen before it’s time. Some of my older kids who have seen it first hand get it and understand, although they feel it’s best to just overlook and put up with stuff – which is what I have also done up until now. My younger kids are clueless. Until someone does something overtly rude or dishonoring, I suppose we all just put up with the small things. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when the straw that breaks the camel’s back comes along – and they refuse to own it and see how horrible it is – THAT’S when it’s time to call it a day and walk away. We are tired of disrespecting ourselves just to make mean relatives feel good about themselves and feel comfortable continuing to be rude. No more.

      Reply
  18. Leslie

    Hugs to you, Natalie. I’m so sorry your family have treated you poorly so that walking away is even necessary, but I’m glad you’ve held on to your freedom and peace, which is EXACTLY what we are commanded to do!

    Reply
  19. Ashley

    Natalie, you and I could have come from the same family! Our dynamic.is very much like what you describe. I empathize completely when you talk about the guilt of being left out for calling a sin out. My family is very religious and my mother is a classic narcissist. She rules the entire family through her attitudes and triangulation.
    For years I could not understand why I felt so much different than my sisters. And now that I understand narcissism I finally see the dynamic as dysfunctional. I too married an abuser, divorced him and married another 10 years later. I was the same black sheep in my marriages that I had been in my family. Riddled with guilt, always quick to apologize even when I hadn’t done anything wrong. Anything to be accepted again. Although I was never genuinely accepted at all.
    Years of birthday and Christmas gifts that screamed ‘they don’t know me at all’! Me always trying to be the perfect daughter so I could be loved. Nothing mattered. My sacrifices went unnoticed or demeaned as ‘payment due’ for having to put up with me in the first place.
    I have nothing to do with them now (their choice, not mine) but I have found love with so many other beautiful people who appreciate me even when I am in a place where I can do little for them. It’s a freedom to be me that I had never known within my family of origin.
    Thank God they cast me out so I could be free to live without the burden of guilt I carried being close to them.
    Even though I am nearly 40, I am hopeful and happy to be alive.
    Thank you for another great article that put my thoughts into words!
    Love you girl!!! Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I think there are many of us out there! It’s so good to know we aren’t alone, and we aren’t crazy! 🙂

      Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You are under 40 – that’s awesome that you can see this earlier in your life and that you’ve found love and acceptance in other communities. Blood is not thicker than water. The family of God is our true family.

      Reply
  20. Karen Olson

    As a Christian we are not only to forgive but to reconcile and love one another as God has loved us. To say you can forgive but won’t have anything to do with that person is not something, we as Christians, should do. We are told to love others even more than we love ourselves. Now I’m not talking about abusive situations. I’m talking about differences in ideas, opinions, disinformation from a wife to a husband or clouding the truth to make yourself look like the good guy, no matter the hurt or pain it may cause, say a sister or father,mother.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      It takes two people to reconcile though. We only have control over one. Ourselves.

      Reply
    • Boldly walking away

      Karen,
      I am not sure I am understanding the point you are making, so I want to seek clarity if you are willing. Are you saying that we should forgive and reconcile with all people, no matter how badly they hurt us? The behaviors you listed, such as lying and misinforming a spouse and doing whatever it takes to self-protect, ARE forms of abuse when they are chronically employed and the user of them refuses to take ownership. They represent disordered, ungodly character, and the person engaging in them must be held accountable. The cost of not changing the mindset and the behavior is a loss of relationship. Pure and simple. I am called to forgive a person for these behaviors, but I am absolutely NOT called to be in reconciled relationship with them. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your intention, but this is what I am receiving when I read your comment.

      Reply
  21. Kelsie

    “…I felt guilty for not measuring up. If only I could be more kind. More selfless. More quiet. More relaxed. More loving. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt..
    . I drummed up the wherewithal to lay aside what I knew to be true and accept an alternate reality where I was always wrong, and my perspective was always mistaken and unwanted and assuming and delusional…”

    I know this isn’t the end game or main point of your post, but it’s where I got the most hung up because maybe I’m still “stuck” on this part of my processing and healing….Stuck in that I feel like I don’t know what IS real anymore…and, 99% of the time I’m convinced that whatever I think or do is ultimately wrong, simply because >>I<< was the one to think or do it. It's so disorienting and confusing….

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You will get to the place where you have enough confidence in your own perception of things that you finally trust your gut. You’re normal. You really are.

      Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Kelsie – keep searching, because nobody can be wrong all the time. You’re not alone in your struggle. See if you can talk to people in your life who really DO know you. I’ve found that many women who have one or more destructive persons in their lives gaslighting them and confusing them – also have several people in their lives who are NORMAL. Find out what those normal people think of you – and trust THEM. Figuring out who you are deep inside is one of the most precious gifts God will give to you. He knows and loves you – and He wants YOU to know and love you too!

      Reply
      • Jessica

        Thank you so much for your wonderful podcast, blogs and newsletters. You have helped me make sense of my confusing relationship and identify what was going on. With your help I’m learning to define clear boundaries and that I am responsible for my behavior, not his…

        Reply
      • Lori

        Thank you, Natalie, for sharing your story. The link to this article popped up in my news feed today. I am so happy to have discovered you and your website, Flying Free, today! Last night I cried out of the blue, deep tears, over a time in my life with family from 13 years ago. I was quite surprised, for I truly thought I had processed all of that. I was shocked to find myself reliving the pain. Thankfully, my loving husband pointed out this morning….being newly married ( we are celebrating 3 years next month) will trigger parts of my past I did not experience as a single. So many words you shared touched me precisely where I am at….” So she walked away. The end.” (I love the simplicity in the freedom.) “Unfold”. ( This favorite word of mine pops up when I need a nudge. ). “Rose” and “June” ( Poignant names in my history). Thank you for the comforting timing and wisdom of your words.

        Reply
        • Natalie Hoffman

          Well then – this was for you, Lori. Jesus loves you so much. (((HUGS)))

          Reply
    • Boldly walking away

      Kelsie,
      I ache for you. I stayed in that place of confusion and disorientation for so very long, but I can truly say God has granted me freedom as I have FOUGHT (and as He has fought on my behalf) for the past year or so once He revealed to me what was happening in my marriage. Awareness is the first step, and YOU ARE THERE, sister. I firmly believe you and your ability to know what you know. Keep walking one step at a time, ear to Spirit. Your gut will develop and strengthen. It has been there all along, but you’ve likely been told to disregard or even crush it. It is still there. Promise.

      Reply
    • Linda C

      So much of this resonates with me! Thank you!! I have so much trouble with boundaries, and as an abuse survivor, I have been taught it is rude to have them. My husband (separated for the 5th time) is such a joy sucker! Every time I have contact with him, even on the phone, I feel badly. I need to divorce him, but I just have not been able to financially and emotionally. He wants to reconcile. Believes God told him it will happen. But because I can’t hear God, it is taking longer! His words. I have seen enough yellow/red flags to know it would be so unwise to try and reconcile again. He has told me I’m wrong for telling counselors about the abuse. Throwing him under the bus! I know now marriage counseling will never help us. I refuse to go anymore. Anyway, thank you again for putting into sensible words what so many of us had no words to describe. I am finishing your book, Is It Me? Gonna read it again with a high lighter! Love it!

      Reply
      • Natalie Hoffman

        As long as he is still blaming you, he is unfixable. I hope you’ll be able to find a way out one day!

        Reply
        • Alicia

          How then do you answer the one who says, “It feels like you are the one who has been pinning all the guilt on me.” when you confront them with their behavior? Sometimes I just want to say, “Yeah, I’m the enabler. I’ve got a whole host of things I’m repenting of.”

          Reply
          • Natalie Hoffman

            I would say, “Nobody is pinning guilt on anyone. People are guilty because they’ve done something wrong. Not because someone caught them doing it or pointed it out. And they don’t become innocent of what they did just because someone else did the same thing wrong. That’s ridiculous. Own your stuff, babes. That’s called “Adulting.” You are responsible for your behavior. Period. And it has nothing to do with me and my behavior. Period.”

            But of course, they’ll never listen.

            Reply

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