This is the last of my three columns on “intimate abuses.” It’s for those struggling with hidden childhood despair, emotional/mental stresses, and soul wounds related to childhood neglect or adult violence.
You are not crazy! You are not delusional! You just don’t know the truth that is guaranteed to set you free. When it comes to mental and emotional health, traditional views and training are based on the Freudian cause-and-effect model. However, many people have turned from pop-culture, self-help, psychobabble approaches to a different way of thinking: family systems theory. I was introduced to this concept at the seminary when my class was assigned to read Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, a groundbreaking book by the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman.
I later learned that it was Murray Bowen, a clinical psychiatrist, who developed and popularized the practical and authoritative principles of family systems theory. He believed that the primary source of human emotional experience is the extended family unit. Many aspects of these human interactions are presented in his 1978 classic, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. His work revolutionized psychotherapy in America and greatly helped me in my search to face, figure out, and accept my own family history and reality. Some of Bowen’s innovations, such as homeostasis (balance), identification, and differentiation of self, the extended family field and emotional triangles were magnified by his protégé, Roberta M. Gilbert, in her masterpiece Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking About Human Interactions. In it she explores and enhances the latest psychodynamic trends that recognize the impact of generational experiences on adult lifestyle and choices.
Gilbert wrote, “In the realm of the purely personal—after food, water, and shelter—the quality of relationships most often determines the quality of life. . . . Contrary to some prevalent notions, smooth-running relationships between individuals—in the family, in the workplace, and even in summit meetings—rarely if ever happen by accident. . . . [They] develop over time, when adults relate to each other in principled ways” (p. 3).
Alice Miller’s The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting is an unforgettable perspective on early childhood development. She says, “The truth about childhood is stored up in our bodies and lives in the depth of our souls. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings can be numbed and manipulated, our perceptions shamed and confused, our bodies tricked with medication. But our soul never forgets, and because we are one, one whole soul in one body, someday our body will present its bill.” If your body is presenting its bill in agonizing emotional or mental disruptions, this is a must-read.
In 1990 philosopher, counselor, theologian, and teacher John Bradshaw, who currently serves as senior fellow at The Meadows in Scottsdale, Arizona, published Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child. He later followed this with a series of outstanding videos that, with God’s help, were the original source of my own recovery from soul wounds caused by early childhood traumas.
When it comes to spiritual abuse, having never personally experienced it, I have gained much understanding from reading The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. They propose that “spiritual abuse is a real phenomenon that actually happens in the body of Christ. It is a subtle trap in which the ones who perpetrate spiritual abuse on others are just as trapped in their unhealthy beliefs and actions as those whom they, knowingly or unknowingly, abuse” (p. 16).
Mable C. Dunbar, president of Polly’s Place Network, is also former Women’s Ministries director and Family Life educator for the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. She has produced, with husband Colin, outstanding books and seminars about domestic violence. In The Truth About Us: How to Discover the Potential God Has Given You, “Mable shares her own story from victim to personal triumph and understanding that God had a special purpose for her life.”
I have shared these resources with you because, like the apostle John, “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 John 2).
Hyveth Williams is a homiletics professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. This article was published June 21, 2012.