How To Be Okay With Love Ruining You

ChristOnCrossLoopNot much in life hurts more than loving someone who not only does not return your love, but who barely if at all likes you. That’s just the worst. It’s like every morning sprinkling powdered bleach on your Corn Flakes, and gobbling away. It’s just … gut-wrenching death. Except it doesn’t bring the relief of actual death.

Life being what it is, sometimes we simply love people who not only don’t love us back, but who actively and constantly work against what’s best for us—who, in fact, use our inexhaustible love for them as a weapon against us. And even though we know that’s all they’re ever going to do with our love for them, we continue to love them. And in so doing we continue to supply them with everything they need to yet again bring us to our knees.

Outside of falling victim to the Stockholm syndrome, the only kind of people for whom we usually experience this kind of self-immolating love are family members and spouses. Someone needs to be that close to hurt us in that very special way.

And what renders this entire dynamic so profoundly crazy-making is that love is supposed to be so good—so healthy, so uplifting, so wonderful, positive, and affirming. And so when we love someone in the essentially self-destructive ways we sometimes do, we feel … well, crazy. Because we know how out-of-the-norm that weird, toxic love of ours put us. We know there’s no Valentine’s Day card from Hallmark that on the outside says, “Won’t You Be My Valentine?” and on the inside says, “Of course you won’t, you cruel beast. What was I thinking? Sorry I interrupted your fang sharpening. I lovingly await your degradation of my soul.”

And we know that our love for the people who callously disregard that love is as pure as pure gets. We’re not tripping about our love. We know we’re not crazy. We know that our love is goodthat it’s real, honest, and honorable. We know it’s all about appreciating and celebrating what’s best in our beloved. It’s as noble and true as any love can be—more so, if anything, since it’s a love so honest it desires nothing in return.

When you love someone despite how they treat you, you love them in the deepest possible way.

We know that. We know that’s exactly the self-sacrificing, perfectly pure way in which we are loving.

And sometimes, alas, we are also forced to know an awful corollary to that love of ours: that sometimes the person we love regards that love as having a value equal to diddly-squat.

They just don’t care that we love them. It doesn’t mean anything to them. If anything, they’d rather we didn’t love them.

They’d rather we didn’t love them!

Amazing!

And of course that only adds to our crazy. Because it makes zero sense.

How can our beloved actually not care how much we love them? How can a love as pure as the one we feel for them mean nothing whatsoever to them?

Why doesn’t our love for them heal our relationship with them?

To put it in pirate talk: arrrrrrggggghhh.

But that’s what happens.

And that’s how our love for others becomes, impossibly enough, our own worst enemy. That’s how we end up stuck aiding and abetting our own personal destruction, how we end up willingly poisoning our own well.

That’s how our love turns into what destroys us.

What a sad conundrum! What a terrible puzzle. What a dark and deep hole for us to fall down forever.

So we need help.

And guess what? I know that help.

Guess what works here? Guess the paradigm for properly understanding what we’re really doing when we continue, inevitably and forever love those who have no such love for us?

It’s Jesus Christ. That is exactly what happened to him.

Jesus Christ, no matter what, and very often despite himself, kept on loving people who kept on treating him like garbage.

Christ gave nothing but love. And what he got in exchange for that love was the living flesh ripped off his bones. The people to whom he extended the very love of God repaid him for that love by doing nothing more imaginative than mercilessly beating him to death.

On this earth we can have no experience that more closely approximates Christ on the cross than loving someone who doesn’t love us back.

So the next time someone whom you love unconditionally purposefully and willfully hurts you, get yourself alone, close your eyes, and hold out your arms like you’re Jesus on the cross.

Feel the pain of what has happened to you.

Feel it as deeply as you can. Let it sink all the way in.

And then there you are.

And then there He is.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is co-founder of The NALT Christians Project and founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here). His blog is here. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Susan

    O_O Wow.

  • http://oakabbey.wordpress.com Cheryl Anne

    And then there is resurrection, which for me was spelled d-i-v-o-r-c-e.

    I will never stop praying for the man, and I refuse to return evil for evil, but I will not subject myself to further abuse. Jesus didn’t jump back on the cross after Easter.

    (Had the whole crazy family of origin too…so I was a prime candidate for a crazy marriage.)

    Sane, Healthy Blessings to All.

  • Kath

    Thanks for being so transparent, John. My parents too — and the effects last generations. I know that. For me, what was most healing thing was to know I had a loving Father.

    But both responses are beginnings, not endings, right?

    In the last few years, I have spent some time learning about attachment theory to better understand how the damage works and how the healing can work. A great resource on that subject is Daniel Siegel’s “The Biology of We.” I also saw a documentary the other night, “KIller Stress” that I was able to connect to what happened to me.But check out attachment theory somewhere –it explains why loving your parents is hard-wired in you — and it is. But all the horrific messages you got over your life, from them, about how useless and worthless you are, run just as deep (and in my experience, they’re sneaky little guys that you can’t see while everyone around you can).

    Bottom line: my heart goes out to you. I struggle with “do I visit my parents or don’t I?” At the moment, I talk to my mother on the phone about once a week, and she continues all her hurtful behaviors. I can’t bear to hear my father’s voice or see his face. I get physically sick when I try. Ugh. Hang in there, John.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com/ Erika

    i am so convicted right now john, this really really spoke, er…screamed at my heart.

    you are right on.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    Spot on!

  • Don Rappe

    The reference to the Stockholm syndrome seems quite appropriate. What a narrow line there is between this and loving those who spitefully use us. I cannot view the Lamb that was slain without also hearing the thunder from the Throne.

  • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

    Well. Wait a minute. For one thing, I ain’t stretching my arms out for nobody! And another thing. No one has the right to treat me that way and I’m not volunteering. I am not stuck loving anyone!

    I think that to continue offering your love in full without in any way insisting that you be treated with respect is codependent. And not holding someone accountable for their own dysfunction does not do them any favors.

    Your posts often break my heart but this one kinda pissed me off! Step back before you tell me that I have to keep loving anyone who is a threat to my wellbeing.

    Why do you think that adult children are any more stuck than abused wives? If pure love with outstretched arms is not an appropriate response to the husband who beats you, why is it appropriate for the parent who gets off on hurting you in some other way?

    Didn’t Jesus say to shake the dust off your feet and keep on going? And to leave your family behind, if necessary, so that you can follow him? And isn’t it likely that parental abuse will severely damage one’s capacity to fully embrace and follow God?

    Several deep breaths later, I am not angry anymore. But I still disagree with what it sounds like you are saying.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Then you’ve never loved a family member despite how they’ve treated you. That’s a blessing for you. Nothing to get mad about.

      I also wrote this: Unhappy? Reject Your Loser Parents. And 7 Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships. If you knew more of my work, you’d know I’m hardly a person who suggests anyone being a doormat for love.

      • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

        Of course I did. For a while. Longer than I should have. And then there was therapy. And healing techniques.

        I love your “Unhappy? …” post. And I’m not really suggesting that you think people should be doormats or that that’s what this post says. But there is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that I didn’t like.

        Even if someone is unable to stop loving a parent who hurts him, he doesn’t have to place himself in the line of fire. He can stop doing that.

        Jesus chose not to save himself. But we can.

        • DR

          I also have parents who are terribly abusive and have no inability *not* to be that way after years of choosing to stay miserable. I love them – I adore them – and in doing so, they’ve absolutely no power over me as a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite.

          Love is the elixir of the universe, it is the fuel to the engine that keeps us on the path of sanctification. Choosing to love when it is crazy to do so brings the power of the resurrection into the present time and time and time again.

          In no way does “love” equate to “stay in the place where I will continue to be damaged”. One can *love* without needing the person we’re loving to care for us in the ways we needed them to.

          This may not have anything to do with what John is writing, but could have everything to do with what you believing loving people who are abusive is and what it would take for you to do it.

          • cat rennolds

            yeah, this. you said it better than I.

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            I think it’s great that you can do that and I get your point about them not having power over you. I feel the energy of that from your post. John’s post didn’t come across that way to me.

            I agree that one can love without needing what we used to need as children. But I don’t want to. I think once we come from that kind of damaging situation, we each have to figure out what will work for us.

            I appreciate your response.

            Jeanine

          • DR

            I am a little confused by your reply. As an adult, not needing our parents to love us as we did when we were once children is a very difficult process to go through, but it’s critical that we free ourselves from that need, particularly if they didn’t love us well at all. If not, we’re constantly recreating the experiences and the relationships in our lives so we can reply the potential that mom and dad love us as we need them too.

            This is the entire point behind all of John’s posts, that to free ourselves from this need so we can really *love* our damaged, abusive parents without putting ourselves into a position of being wounded again and again is the hope he’s offering here. That you are reading something else is actually due to the lens you are wearing as you read which is yours and God’s to remove if and when you decide to do so.

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            “it’s critical that we free ourselves from that need, particularly if they didn’t love us well at all.”

            That’s actually what I meant. I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. I agree with you.

            It sounded like you were advocating the kind of relationship where you continue to connect with people who cannot not hurt you, as you said above, and that you can do that and still be empowered. What I was trying to say was that that might be possible, but I don’t want to do that.

          • DR

            If you don’t want to do that? More power to you. But with all due respect, you’re seem to be so invested in the point you’re making, you’re either incapable or unwilling to let peoples’ other experiences stand alone as they share them. OK? Stop challenging what you’re reading if you’re not really willing to slow down, read and listen with an open mind.

  • Lisa Salazar

    “There you are. And there he is.”

    This is sublime.

    It reminds me of Paul’s sentiment, as expresses in Philippians 3:10 “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings… “

  • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

    There is this…. passage I wrote… in one of my nobody-cares-about-them novels that illustrates something I think about love – sort of like this, I guess:

    (The context of the passage is one of my main characters being in attendance of the gallows-execution of a serial murderer he sort-of-accidently helped the authorities to capture. He has a lot of mixed feelings over the whole event, but, at the moment, he’s watching the convict’s mother cry and thinking about what an older friend of his once said regarding the power of love):

    —-

    “Noel remembered something he’d heard Miss Sonora say back when he was in Rust. They’d been talking about love. She’d told him; “Love is picking you up from jail.” She’d gone on to explain that when a person genuinely loves another person, be it as a lover, a family member or as a friend, they are willing to be there for the person they love even when that person has made his or herself difficult or undesirable. In simple terms, love was when a person would come for someone after they’d served a jail term for a crime or if they’d spent time sorting themselves out in a house for the infirm in mind – or if they’d otherwise become someone the majority of society would find ugly, someone many would leave behind.

    If such sentiment was true, Rufus Baine’s elderly mother must have loved him very much. Noel saw copious tears drip off her nose. He refused to meet her gaze. He turned and looked to the ground whenever she turned her face his way. ”

    —–

    However, after writing that passage, I realized that it did carry some unfortunate implications. I left it in the story anyway and stand by it.

    The whole “Love is picking you up from jail” thing was inspired by events in my life – in which *I* had made mistakes and suffered particular brain-crackedness to make myself undesirable, someone that society wouldn’t bat an eyelash over someone “putting away” or having nothing to do with. The difference with me is that the recipeint of that love… accepted it, VERY gratefully. (Hee, when my fiancee’ red-penned that chapter for me, he put “You Betcha!” in the margins of that passage. *Grin*).

    The big difference with you is that… you’re loving people, despite your better judgement, but they have no desire to receive it. Sadly, there is nothing much you can do if someone does not want to receieve love.

    If you ask me, it is their loss.

  • Elizabeth

    “Valentine’s Day is coming right up here, and I know there’s no Hallmark card that on the outside says, ‘Won’t You Be My Valentine?’ and on the inside says, ‘Of course you won’t, you toxic beast. What was I thinking? Sorry I interrupted your fang sharpening,’” ranks right up there in my list of favorite John Shore lines ever. I’m sorry your dad sucks (understatement), but I’ve gotten a lot from your posts during your recent visit. Thanks for bringing us along.

  • Susan Golian

    “And there you are.” “And there he is.”

    Utterly, absolutely perfect.

    Amazing how insanely well you “get” it and share “it.”

    Bless you!

  • jeremy

    “Sometimes we just love people who not only don’t love us back, but who actively and constantly work against our well-being.”

    I don’t know your situation aside from what you’ve described in this post. But the only way for a relative to “actively and constantly” work against your well-being is if you choose to keep them in your life.

    If I had a parent or spouse who hated me, as you say that you do, I would distance myself from that person.

    You’re giving these people power. Claiming that you’re suffering like Jesus is just a rationalization. There’s nothing ennobling about your situation.

    • DR

      I’ve never seen so much meaning inserted incorrectly into a blog post. That’s why I could never be a writer or artist, what people *see* as a result of their own damaged filters would be heart-breaking.

      • jeremy

        So because I don’t see this post the same way you do, I have damaged filters? Classy.

        • DR

          Or perhaps you just aren’t reading carefully, I’ve no idea. Your call not mine.

        • DR

          And you offering a sarcastic jab of “classy” after your first response to this entry? That might be the most tragically ironic thing I’ve read in a while. Ugh.

          • jeremy

            Grow up.

  • Marcelo

    John, this has to be one of the most beautiful things you’ve written and the most poignant and profound thing I’ve read in quite a while.

    My heart goes out to you, and God bless you, brother.

    I also have had to deal with a (non-parental but about as-close-as-you-can-get) relationship where my love was not returned and can be a source of bitter pain. This touched at what I’ve been feeling inside. As insipid as the word sometimes sounds, there is honor in the knowledge that your certainly unconditional love, while unreciprocated, is what we are called to by the Father. What He led His son to do for us. It may be the only consolation, but it’s the one that makes all the difference in the world…or the next.

    And…I have to say, that through the misting-up eyes, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the Hallmark card. I would love to find that card in that drug store aisle while try to find the matching poison-laced, bright pink envelope for it.

  • cat rennolds

    you love them because you are loving. they hurt you because you let them. the emotion love is not synonymous with loving action. enabling them to hurt someone, even if it’s you, especially if it’s you, is not loving them. yes, you’re always going to feel hurt that they don’t love you the way you want them to, the way they “should.” that doesn’t mean you have to let them treat you badly.

    In a dysfunctional family, if one person starts getting well, the rest will try to sabotage it in self-defense. “You’re the crazy one,we’re fine.” They “like” making you feel bad because you make them feel bad about themselves in comparison. And that’s not your problem or your fault.

    I think probably the cross did not hurt the Christ nearly as much as the fear and hate that put him there.

    • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

      “You love them because you are loving. they hurt you because you let them. the emotion love is not synonymous with loving action. enabling them to hurt someone, even if it’s you, especially if it’s you, is not loving them.”

      This. You said it better than I did!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Here’s a quote from the piece you don’t seem to be hearing, Jeanine: “We can’t stop loving these people. I’m going to love my parents and sister no matter how awfully they treat me. Doing so is wired into my DNA. I could no sooner turn off my love for those people than I could hold out my arms and stop the Mississippi River.”

        Okay? It’s good for you (or not, I think: but that’s certainly none of my business) that you don’t have anyone in your life whom you love in this manner. But we who DO love our family members this way don’t “let” them hurt us. We are vulnerable to the pain they cause us because we love them more than we love ourselves, is what it really boils down to. Good for you for not feeling that way about anybody. But don’t continue to cast that very real feeling that many others have with any sort of psychological dysfunction. That’s hardly what it is.

        • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

          “It’s good for you (or not, I think: but that’s certainly none of my business) that you don’t have anyone in your life whom you love in this manner.”

          Do you really think it would be better to love someone this way? Meaning to be in the kind of relationship you say you have with your father? It sounds like an angry/snarky statement.

          Maybe I am not hearing what you are saying (doesn’t really feel like you’re hearing me, either). But I (and a few others) have given you feedback on what it sounds like you are saying in this post: that it seems to contradict what you’ve said in other posts.

          I hear that that is not what you intended.

          • DR

            Why is a writer – once he’s clarified what he wrote – responsible for what you continue to assert he meant when he clarifies otherwise? I’m sorry to keep harping on you, but you have to understand how frustrating this is for those of us who enjoy reading people who write carefully, want to talk about what was actually written and we have to wade through comments like yours. You’re injecting your own meaning and insisting that it’s somehow the responsibility of the writer when he’s clarified it for you a number of times, perhaps cultivating a self-awareness around that would be wise.

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            I described the way it sounded to me and have responded to him and others who replied.

            I don’t believe I am insisting anything about what he *meant*, in fact, I said that I understood that he was saying he didn’t intend it to come across that way.

            I’m sorry it’s frustrating for you!

          • DR

            I give up, you’re not getting it.

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            Okay. Well, if I am misunderstanding you, I’m sorry.

          • DR

            Yes you did, you did it below:

            “Step back before you tell me that I have to keep loving anyone who is a threat to my wellbeing.”

            He was saying absolutely no such thing. I don’t care about being *right* here, I care that there are people reading this who need to hear John’s actual thoughts on the matter and you’re clouding them with your injected meaning.

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            You’re right! He was not telling me to do that; he just seemed to be saying that that was what he did. And then used Jesus as a role model for others who might be in similar situations.

            Even in the title, “ruining you” sounds like a threat to one’s wellbeing. I know, though, that you are saying that it is not that way for you.

            And in the post he wrote after this one, he clarified that however unpleasant, his visit home had not hurt him emotionally. Which is good, because I was concerned for him!

            It was great to read about how much he has done to heal from the hurtful relationship with his father.

  • eileen

    absolutely brilliant and exactly what this beaten down wounded soul needed tonight

    god speaks through you, John – thank you for accepting this and sharing yourself with us

  • Susan

    John, I think psychotherapist Pete Walker has insights that may help with this…

    “Eventually I ask her if she can find a part of herself that is mad about how grossly unfair her parents’ bullying and indifference was. Is there any part of her that is outraged that she was indoctrinated and inculcated into self-abandonment and self-bullying when she was too young to protest or even know what was happening to her? Is she willing now to gradually build her ability to say “No!” and “Shut up!” whenever she catches the critic, the proxy of her parent, attacking her?

    With much encouragement and practice, the client gradually learns to reject her conditioning to self-abuse and self-abandonment. Her sense of healthy self-protection begins to emerge and over time grows into a fierce willingness to stop unfair criticism – internal or external. Psychodynamically, this is part of the process of working through repetition compulsion. It aids the client to repudiate the parents’ awful legacy of teaching her that love means numbly accepting abuse and neglect.

    Embracing the Critic In my experience, until the fight response is substantially restored, the average complex PTSD client benefits little from the more refined and rational techniques of embracing, dialoguing with, and integrating the valuable parts of the sufficiently shrunken critic”

    Source: http://www.pete-walker.com/pdf/ShrinkingTheCritic.pdf

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      But … I don’t need help with this. That’s … kind of the point of the post.

      sigh.

      • Jessica.M

        Sigh…

        And maybe an eye-roll.

        2 thumbs up John. You’ve GOT it. :)

        • Susan

          Eye-rolling seems hostile and uncalled for, Jessica. I value the quote and link that I posted and offered them innocently and with good intentions. If they’re not needed, then that’s fine.

  • Stephanie west

    After getting slack and not reading your blogs for awhile now( please forgive I was going thru a nasty season of life with a toxic marriage which I am thankfully now out of) I have found you again and caught up with your life as of late. Mesmerized for the last hour or more of reading about your dad and reading older posts about your mom and childhood….I have cried and howled with laughter at all of it. It sadly screams dysfunction and I guess that resonated with me because I saw that dysfunction in my now ex-husband. I’ve been in enough counseling, read enough books, blah blah blah to be a freaking expert on relationships, codependency and the like. I think that you John have your crap together. It’s a wonder you are even sane yet you are doing it. All that you have said proves over and again that you are healed from the bad hand you drew as a child. And you had no say in it….

    As I am continuing to heal myself from the emotional pain of only a few short years of abuse I am inspired by you. Your blog on abused women was the best thing I have ever read in my life. I guess you could totally relate…. I won’t be missing any more of your blogs, you are a genius!!!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow. Thank you, Stephanie. How lovely.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I want to thank those of you who’ve left me such kind comments. I hear you, and take what you’ve said to heart. It’s meant a great deal to me (and my wife, who has cried reading these). Bless you guys for so blessing me.

  • berkshire

    I’ve commented similarly before on this subject, and heard feedback on it, too. But I just can’t help feeling queasy thinking of a woman reading the “Why Woman Stay in Abusive Relationships” post, and then clicking on this one. I think she’d end up feeling really confused.

    I’d hate to see that same woman raise her arms in emulation of Christ, and allow herself to be martyred. It happens far too often, and as you said in that post, religious organizations encourage this all too often. Such an action would serve neither her nor her abuser. It would trouble me especially if her kids are huddled round that cross, watching, learning.

    I don’t know what to say, John. I’m not trying to be provocative or argumentative at all. I’m just really almost as deeply confused by the mixed message as I imagine that woman would be. I know you say it’s different with parents/children than with spouses (I would respectfully disagree). I get that love is the best thing there is. I also think that abuse is abuse, and enabling is enabling. And abuse and enabling, in partnership with each other, have little to do with love.

    Peace, B

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      If you don’t see the difference between the power of the love a child necessarily has for his parents, and the kind of “love” a woman has for her abusive spouse, then … then good luck.

      • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

        I think that once the child becomes an adult, if the adult child allows the victimization to continue, then that is a similar dynamic to what occurs in abusive relationships. That’s what I thought this poster was saying, too.

        • DR

          So if I’m understanding you correctly, as an adult child if I go home to take care of my abusive mother and while I’m doing so, she continues to yell and berate me in her presence but because of the healing work of Jesus in my life it doesn’t hurt me anymore – I’m still a victim? Even if I told you over and over again that it didn’t hurt anymore though I wished things were different?

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            I don’t know you or your abusive mother, and only you can decide whether or not to go home. But if you did, and she was yelling and berating, that would be abusive. I don’t think it’s right for anyone to be treated that way and I think abusers should be held accountable for their behavior.

            But I would be glad to hear about any and all healing you experienced and if it didn’t hurt, that would be great.

          • DR

            Jeanine with all due respect, the way you’ve behaved here I feel like I could explain my experience and you’d still suggest that I actually didn’t experience it. One can only conclude that you’ve decided that you know what an abusive scenario looks like for just about everyone and what it does not look like. So I’ll pass. You’ve not demonstrated any kind of willingness to actually give John the last word on what it is he actually does experiences in the presence of a parent who yells and berates, and how the love of Christ has transformed that experience for him.

            Simply put, it’s a reality for many of us that we can be in very near proximity of an abuser, and not be wounded by it. But you continue to somehow insist that’s not true. And it may not be true for you, but it stops there.

          • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

            I don’t believe that’s what I have said and I was trying to respond to exactly what you said without adding any assumptions to it.

            “Simply put, it’s a reality for man of us that we can be in very near proximity of an abuser and not be wounded by it, but you continue to somehow insist that’s not true.”

            No, I’m not. As I understand what John was writing, he was writing about continuing to be wounded. His title is about love “ruining” you & “when the love you give hurts you.”

            That’s what I was responding to in what I wrote to him. An d in his response to me he said “We are vulnerable to the pain they cause us because we love them more than we love ourselves.”

            So it sounds like he is talking about being wounded by it. I’m going by what he wrote.

            If you say that you are not wounded by it, then I believe you. I don’t think I am having the same conversation with you that I was having with him.

      • DR

        Hand to God, I don’t know how you keep this blog open sometimes though I’m so glad you do!

    • DR

      How in the world is an abusive marriage even remotely similar to freeing oneself from the damage one experienced from abusive parents, well enough to still love them? I’m just – I don’t even know what to say, the number of you who have actively, aggressively inserted their *own* issues into this very carefully-worded account of John’s own experience, own recovered heart and resulting relationship with his extremely abusive father is bewildering.

      I don’t care if you’re a professional therapist, the only explanation for this kind of thing s that you’re really turned upside down by some of these posts because of your own unmanaged pain with your own family and you just can’t *read* what’s being offered here. It’s so clear, and it’s been reiterated so many times and it’s bringing hope and clarity to dozens of people that are reading it. That you continue to insinuate something twisted about it is kind of getting creepy.

    • Holly

      “I’d hate to see that same woman raise her arms in emulation of Christ, and allow herself to be martyred.”

      … and allow herself to be martyred? I didn’t read that part in John’s post… Ahem, anyway…

      I personally think that the love a child (or adult) has for their parents, while they are abusive and nasty, isn’t being martyred at all.

      John has another post, or maybe it was a comment reply, about how many parental rejections are a result of their own disdain for themselves. Children, at almost any age, will not be able to put that together. Even grown adults can take a perfect stranger’s reaction to them personally, in many circumstances.

      A rejected child may grow up- but they are still a rejected child. It’s certainly not the same as being the victim of an abusive spouse, although it emulates what the “rejected child” would know of love- but a grown woman knows the difference.

      And Jeanine- you’re posts are entirely too judgmental and insensitive for having gone through therapy. I hope you had awesome insurance, otherwise, you need a refund. You cold-hearted jerk. No doubt there isn’t one person who would be able to live up to your standards of expected behavior before you’ve decided not to be “stuck” loving them. I’m going to take a wild guess that your “healing techniques” are not all too effective either. I’m pretty careful about not offending people… but whatever. Wake the fuck up– love is all we got, lady.

      • DR

        Man. Thank you, I thought I was losing it there for a while!

        • Holly

          Interacting with people who insist on a coldness and uncaring that is beyond what should be considered appropriate, will do that to ya. Big hugs, DR.

      • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

        “Love is all we’ve got!”

        God’s love, the love of my family and friends, have meant so much to me and I completely agree with you. I don’t need to wake up to that, I already know it.

        And therapy saved my life! You don’t know me well enough to know that but it did. I got my money’s worth, for sure.

        I did not mean to upset anyone, including you, and I regret whatever you heard or felt in response to what I wrote. I wrote honestly about what I thought and felt and responded honestly to what people said to me. But it was not my intention to hurt anyone.

  • Grace

    I’m endlessly impressed with you. You are so gifted.

  • Mindy

    Just want to chime in as one who does, in fact, understand what you MEANT. :)

    I endured more than one abusive relationship, because I was emotionally broken. I let someone beat me. I took hateful words as if I deserved them. I loved them, yes, in the best way I knew how. But the love was so entangled with my need for validation of my self-loathing that the love could not possibly have stood alone. When I love someone, I do it completely – but only in the last decade or so of my life have I truly understood how important loving myself is before giving in to feelings of love for a partner. Only then will I expect, and thus receive, real love and and respect in return.

    OK, so got that figured out, hope to meet someone, but would rather be alone than in a relationship that doesn’t work. And I also realize that my family is a whole ‘nother matter.

    My details no longer matter, but suffice it to say that it took years to recover from unintentional emotional damage inflicted upon me by my dad. Through it all, I could no more have stopped loving him than I could have willingly severed one of my own limbs in the kitchen sink. Not. Possible. I could distance myself from him – and I did through the healing process. I wasn’t strong enough be around him without further damage.

    Eventually, though, I learned to see him for who he is – the good along with the rest – and now, I AM strong enough to put it all in perspective, know that it is about him and not about me, and deal with it. It still hurts. But it no longer damages me. That is the difference. I LOVE him, and mostly, we have a healed, solid relationship. But he can still cut through me with his words. They only hurt me BECAUSE I love him, and thus his words matter to me. When they cut through me now, though, the wound heals right up, because my emotional self is healthy. I don’t feel splayed open, bleeding; I simply grow another tiny scar.

    I get it, John. Not that my dad was ever one-gazillionth as awful as yours – not even close! – but I know the difference of which you speak, and I admire your analogy to Christ.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow. Sounds like some journey you’ve been on. Congratulations on having come out of it so well.

    • Jill H

      Mindy, I only just stumbled onto your comment, obviously in need of reading it. I love what you say! Your relationship with your Dad mirrors mine, and I can attest that it being holiday time, it hurt a little more this round. Shoring up all my strength just to face a holiday phone call was a just a little more exhausting this time.

      Yet I am reminded– by this post, by memories of my past– that I’ve done worse when I didn’t have a framework of love that surpasses all. Love that allows me to forgive myself for feeling all mushy and needy and lonely and ridiculous. Love that keeps my one foot in front of the other when I’d rather go hide.

      You don’t know this, but this just gave me the boost of hope I need to face a new challenge/opening door in my life. And I really needed that. Thank you very much.

  • Lili Crawford

    Wow, this one really stirred up some lively discussions, eh? First, I really appreciate this post, john, as wel as your transparency in sharing a journey of pain and healing that is both compelling and inspiring. I think one has to be careful not to be too presumptuous about stating what someone else meant by their words or deeds, but respectfully this is what I think I am reading in the various exchanges with Jeanine:

    I think that part of the disconnect is that John is talking about apples, and Jeanine is talking about a pear that looks like and apple and has been mistaken for one. What I read in John’s words, and those of other replies here, is that he is talking about pure love, that transcends ego, hurt, needs, etc. When Jeanine replies it sounds a lot to me like she may be writing about something that often is an accompanying emotion, which is…need? emptiness? incompletelness? I am not quite sure how to label it. But many times people like abused women, children whose parents mistreated them, parents whose kids don’t care for them, etc. have a desparate desire for their tormenter to change, and to validate thier love.

    While this need may originally grow out of love, which makes the opinions of the loved one matter more than most, it can often turn into something that is more about insecurity, the need for validation. I personally think that while this need is present, it misdirects the love that is lurking underneath. It makes the lover vulnerable to even more harm, psychologically or even physically. If that’s the case then for us mortal humans I think some of what Jeanine is saying is right on – if you are still vulnerable to being damaged, you have not only the right but – in my opinion – the moral obligation to protect yourself by putting distance and even a good strong wall up between you and the person you love.

    What I’m reading in John’s words is that through a lot of self-work, he beleives he has put off that imposter emotion that we think is love, that makes us vulnerable to harm, and therefore is able to just love his dad and sister without being damaged in the process. I must say, John, the social worker in me is a little skeptical, it is hard to imagine that the level of abuse you experienced doesn’t still impact you in ways you might not even realize. I know if it were me, I would need a lot more years of self-work to reach the stage that you describe. But, I don’t know you and can only take your word that is exactly what you’ve done. I am impressed – it must have taken quantum amounts of courage and fortitude to face down such grotesque demons, Many poeple I know would have been crushed by the experiences you’ve shared, and would have allowed the pain to turn them into bitter souls. I don’t find any hint of that in anything you’ve written, that I’ve read so far.

    For what it’s worth, that’s my own take on most of the back and forth I’m reading here. What I haven’t read in many of the replies here is a response to what I seems to be the main point of John’s post, which is to use the metaphor of humans hurting those who love them to help us consider just what an immense, profoundly unfathomable…um..really really huge…um indescribably…well…UBER GIGANTIC act of love that Christ committed on the cross for us. At a human level, it can be so unbearably painful to be rejected by someone we love. As the Creator of the universe, to be rejected and despised by His own creation – not just those at the foot of the cross, but all who came before and all who would come after – when what he was offering us was the purest, most intense love of all – there are no real words to describe the level of grief that must have caused. And yet, even as humanity reviled Him, He did what He had to do to open a channel for our salvatoin. Without retalitaion. Without resentment. Without self-pity. Stunning. That is the main gist that I got from your post tonight, John, and I thank you for giving me pause to consider these things.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Wow. If I kept a Comment Hall of Fame, this one would be enshrined in it. I may have to start such a hall, just so I can give this one its proper due.

      Anyway, yeah. What you said. Exactly what you said.

      Thank you.

    • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

      “If that’s the case then for us mortal humans I think some of what Jeanine is saying is right on – if you are still vulnerable to being damaged, you have not only the right but – in my opinion – the moral obligation to protect yourself by putting distance and even a good strong wall up between you and the person you love.”

      Yes, that’s what I was saying. Thanks!

    • DR

      Beautifully said, thanks for this!

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    Thanks for this piece, John. So few write authentically about this subject. Fortunately for most other they do not understand. Unfortunately, many cannot accept that. Can I just say, it is great to know you. Great in an affirming way (among many others).

  • Anon

    Thanks John, for your post.

    When the emotional abuse I endured got to be too painful, it was the metaphor of Jesus on the cross that gave me the strength to make it through.

    At the time, I was not quite psychologically ready to leave my now ex-husband. I remember thinking to myself that if Jesus allowed himself to be tortured, then in my “torture” I too could persevere.

    I thought it was a little audacious for me to compare myself to Jesus, but at the time, I figured Jesus endured the cross for many reasons, including as an example as to how to get through particularly rough times.

    Praying and thinking this way enabled me to get through.

  • Debbie

    I said in a prior post John that you love because it is in the core of who you are and testifies to who dwells in that place with you – outstanding post and a great tribute to Him and the power of the kind of Love He has got going on…and how well your heart listens…

    I think it was GK Chesterton who said that – ‘Love is not blind, that is the last thing it is, love is bound and the more that it is bound the less it is blind…to love something or someone for no earthly reason, to love with a transcendance can possibly turn a wasteland into Eden.”

    The wasteland was not your father…do you understand? God has grown a glorious garden in your trampled soul. How do I know? As one who know’s always see’s :)

    My momma ran away when I was four…my uncle molested me not long after…my dad’s girlfriend beat me almost to death not long after that…my mother kidnapped me…my father found me…my mother remarries when I am nine and father’s girlfriend packs us off to my mother…welcome to alcoholic crazy street…mother drops dead when I was 22…yeah I am one who knows what God can do with a wasteland…Grace and Peace always…

    • Debbie

      and just to be sure…your dad is his own wasteland too…some ground is just rock hard for the tiller…

  • LVZ

    Jeanine and DR are both right.

    Jesus said to love our enemies and forgive them. He also said not to cast our pearls before swine.

    When a parent — biological or otherwise — responds to a child’s unconditional love with disdain and contempt, “swine” is a good way to describe said parent.

    Jesus forgave the people executing him in the middle of his execution! What greater love was there than that? But the difference between Jesus’ example and what normal human beings can do is that, by dying on the cross, Jesus redeemed mankind for our sins. He was the Christ.

    However, none of us are Jesus. Casting our pearls before someone who is hurting us while they’re still in the process of doing it only rewards bad behavior. No single human being’s sacrifice can save the world from sin.

    When someone casts pearls before swine — whether the swine is a blood relative, a parent, or a spouse — all the swine will do when they have finished rending their current victim is move on to the next one. That’s what abusers do.

    We must forgive those who have abused us — but that doesn’t mean we have to keep casting our pearls before them. John has done all he could for his father, and now he and his wife have returned home.

    • http://dressmytruth.blogspot.com Jeanine Byers Hoag

      I completely agree with you! And I like that you bring in the point about forgiveness ~ I left that out in what I was saying but I agree that it is important.

    • Diana A.

      Love this! Thank you!

  • Shane

    Wonderful post.

    Specially, it’s ideal for those in the gay community.. to learn to love when so much hate is being thrown at you.

    Well done brother, well done!

  • Diana Horel

    And what if you don’t love them and they don’t hurt you anymore because you don’t love them, yet you are in the situation of being the only person in their sorry lonely lives and you’d rather not be? That’s where I am.

  • Robert

    I am sooo glad I got into Alanon… and been to a bunch of Adult Children of Alcoholic meetings. As I was reading this post… I became aware that something was happening… and that we were not talking about Love… we were talking about trying to get a sick, a very sick person… to change. To become something that they can not be…. for years I attempted to do exactly that… and it has taken years for me to see that my early childhood experiences set me up to do just that….

    Now, I have enough self respect to know that what I was doing was debasing myself as a strategy to get them to see me as valuable.

    They did not turn my love into garbage… I turned it into garbage because they were unable to accept it.

    I maintain relationship with my family… but it has boundaries. And one boundary revolves around respect. I do not expect others to respect me. I expect me to respect me. When I am treated in a way that violates my sense of self. I simply… LEAVE.

    I don’t have an argument; I don’t try to ge them to see me, to see my point of view; and I don’t get angry. I just simply excuse myself and leave… sometimes I just go to the bathroom for a minute, other times for walk for a few minutes and other times I leave and I don’t return. I also call a loving friend. I usally create a plan to spend very limited time these people… and I also have built relationships with people that are actually able to love me back….

    Lastly… I don’t think Jesus would want us to willingly abuse ourselves… which is what we are doing when we place ourselves in abusive situations. Self flagellation was the creation of the Middle Ages and not a suggestion from Jesus.

  • Hannah

    Dangerous stuff. It’s true Christ says to turn the other cheek. But you don’t want to keep letting someone beat you up until they kill you. Where is the line? Probably on the side of “Jesus says alcoholic abuse is a-ok”