Monday, November 7, 2011

Seeking Closure

Those that have been involved in abusive relationships (whether physical, emotional or spiritual) often  have a lot of emotional baggage.  And many that have "survived" try to find some sort of closure.  It's a normal part of the grieving process.  Unfortunately, that's not always possible. 

Here's my story...

Early on in ministry I worked for a manipulative, controlling person.  This person "dispensed and withdrew acceptance" (to quote from Robert S. McGee's excellent book, The Search for Significance) as a way of controlling people.  If a person did what he wanted, he/she was lavished with love and acceptance... sometimes, even with praise, especially early on in the relationship.  But if he/she didn't do as expected, desired, etc, this minister made sure everyone knew that he was displeased, and the person was excluded from the "inner circle."

This minister even made it a point to use sermon illustrations that those in the inner circle knew were obviously directed at the "offender", but everyone else listening to the message would have no clue about.  He would make fun of them, talk demeaningly about them or gossip about them to other inner circle people, but never to the offender him-/herself.  But he made sure the offender found out about what was said.  And everyone else was afraid to cross this minister, for fear of being the target of his aggression.

Unfortunately, at one point Robin and I became the offenders.  We were instantly ousted from the inner circle.  It got to the point that when Robin would go up to talk with this minister's wife in public, she would literally turn her back on Robin and continue the conversation.  Childish, no?

Honestly, this is really nothing more than a spiritual version of the playground bully, using fear and intimidation as a weapon.

Thankfully, we moved on and took another ministry position and experienced what a healthy church looks like.

Over the years that followed, I tried to get closure by sending notes and emails.  I thanked this person for giving me a start in ministry, for taking a chance on me, etc.  No reply... nada, nothing, zilch.  I even tried going through the one friend I still had on staff in that organization to confirm that this minister received my message.  Still nothing.

Eventually my friend invited me to be a guest speaker at one of his youth services.  I expected this minister to come over afterward and at least say the obligatory hello.  Didn't happen.  He sent one of his inner circle people to relay the message that he and his wife were tired and wouldn't be coming

All I wanted was for him to acknowledge that I was okay... that I had done well for myself.  I didn't need an apology... just an acknowledgement that I existed.  It never happened.

Finally I understood what Robin had been telling me all along: I was seeking something I was never going to get.  The problem is that when you're dealing with manipulative, controlling and abusive people, you'll never get this closure you're looking for.  This is a way they can continue to punish you for not remaining in the abusive relationship.  And as long as you keep trying to find peace with this person, it remains a codependent relationship.

Sometimes the abusive person is so selfish it's as if they're not capable of give you the closure you so desire.  I'm not excusing what's been done to you... just trying to provide some perspective.

Continuing to seek closure from an abuser will cause you needless stress, heartache and pain... sometimes even health problems.  You are continuing to lay yourself out as a doormat for them to wipe their feet on.  It's as if you're giving them the remote control to your happiness.  I never want to give someone else that much control over my well-being.

I recently spoke with a friend that is dealing with this very thing.  This is what I told her:
Please understand that we want the best for you. But in order for you to go on mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you're going to have to let this go. You're seeking something that you're not going to get. I learned this the hard way myself. 

You don't need this person's approval/connection/whatever to live a happy, healthy life. If you want closure, you'll need to create that yourself.

If it's bothering you this much, maybe you should create some type of ceremony and officially let this go.  Maybe you could write what you feel on a piece of paper and then burn it as a way of offering it up to God. Then anytime those feelings about this come back, say, "No, I won't let those feelings control me anymore. I gave this over to God already."
I hope this post helps you in some way process some baggage you may have accumulated over the years.  I'd be interested in your comments.