Terry Garchinski, B.A., R.S.W., is a therapeutic counsellor and workshop facilitator with Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc.

Family violence and abuse begins with not dealing with our own hurtful thoughts and feelings.

If we don’t take responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings, then it is a short but pain-filled step to blame others: “You made me feel this way!  It is your fault!  You are to blame for my hurt and pain!”

If we use this unhealthy pattern to avoid our own hurt, then we are setting ourselves up, and those closest to us, to experience even more hurt.  This crazy-making merry-go-round is like a hurricane increasing in intensity, just waiting to hit something and release its pent-up, destructive force.  From this comes the choice, “I hurt, so now, I am going to hurt you!”

In an attempt to get control of ourselves, we act out by trying to control others – usually those closest to us.

We may explode outwards through anger, yelling, swearing, pushing, punching, judgements, manipulating, sexual assault, spiritual abuse, or put downs:  “You are not worthy of my love.  You are nothing.”

Or, we implode inwards through depression, isolation, high-risk behaviour, cutting ourselves, hitting walls, alcohol or drug abuse, suicide attempts, compulsively playing BINGO, not valuing ourselves as precious human beings, or put downs.  “I am not worthy of being loved.  I am nothing.”

As human beings, we need to protect ourselves and keep ourselves safe from hurt.  But the need to control others is nothing more than an outer false sense of safety, which disregards our own responsibility and authority to first create inner safety, make responsible choices and take appropriate action.

As adults, regardless of how we were hurt or who hurt us, we are each responsible for our own healing, safety, and choices.  When we are hurt, or when we are reminded of the hurt from our childhood, it is more helpful to respond to that hurt in responsible ways and with good words.

Here are some of suggestions of some good words that we might say to ourselves or to an abusive family member: “I am worthy.  I don’t deserve to be hurt.  I love you but not your behaviour.  I love you but not your drinking.  I will support your good choices but not your bad choices.  I will not carry your pain any longer.  I forgive you.   If you hit me again, I will charge you.  Hitting is not love.  Your hurtful words are not funny.  When you put me down, you are being disrespectful to yourself and to me.  You are responsible for your behaviour and choices and I am responsible for mine.”

When a family member continues to refuse to take responsibility for his or her violent behaviour, sometimes, the most loving word we can say to that person is “Good-bye.”

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