Many with the victim love style recognize that their feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, and lack of safety and security are not something they want to pass down to their children. They don’t want their children to grow up into fearful adults who are dominated by others or angry adults who dominate others. If this is you and you are reading this, that shows you have an incredible desire to be the parent God designed you to be. Here are some important things to be aware of:
Your Own Childhood- Or Lack Thereof
Your childhood was a prison that locked you up and didn’t let you grow up emotionally or relationally. You may have been so dominated in your home as a child that you were just trying to dodge assaults and survive. Survival comes before development, and likely hindered you from developing a sense of who you are, what you think, and how to use critical thinking skills in difficult situations. These struggles exist in degrees of more or less depending on the level of chaos and distress you had as a child. You may have no idea how to protect yourself, let alone your children, if your spouse is angry and destructive.
So, when you look at your own children, it is hard to show them how to respect themselves and others while setting firm clear boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable treatment. You were robbed of your childhood, so unless you get some help, you may just repeat the pattern with yours. But you are here because you want to get things right- and you can.
You and Your Infant
You may be struggling with so much hurt that you simply shut down. If you are depressed and disassociate when you are feeling stress and overwhelm, you may not be available to your developing child. While your child is forming their brain connections for how they view relationship for life, you are not able to be present to connect with them.
Your child is helpless and afraid. At one time, so were you. Perhaps your entire childhood. No one helped you. The crying of your child can bring this overwhelming negative remembrance back to mind, and you have to completely shut down to keep from thinking about it. But if you detach, who will be responsive and attentive to your child? Who will help your child grow up with a different story? If you check out with an addiction to subdue your pain and stress, you are putting your child at risk.
Your child may also bring up reminders of other things that may also push you towards overreaction. Your child’s crying may remind you of your own childhood distress. When you’ve done everything you can and can’t calm your child, you might panic and even hurt or abandon your child, even if only temporarily.
It is very important for you to find ways to:
- get help with your own depression and to heal from your own childhood (and life) hurt.
- stop minimizing your own pain and problems.
- find support and safety from any angry or abusive situations you may be in- even if this means a redemptive separation from your spouse. Many women’s shelters walk with you step by step in this.
- find out how to read your baby’s cues and respond with love and nurture.
- learn about normal developmental stages and needs of children.
- refuse to survive by checking out through addictions. Choose to thrive without them.
- choose to find comfort in safe, healthy relationships that can inspire you to keep growing in ways you missed out and that keep you from seeking comfort in your child (rather than seeking to comfort your child).
The problem is that no one learned your cues and allowed you a voice. They didn’t hear what you needed, comfort you, and provide safety and protection. You have no idea how much help children need to develop self-awareness, self-care, self-control, and the ability to self-soothe. No one every modeled it for you. Perhaps you’ve never developed those things yourself.
You and Your Preschooler
Raising preschoolers is a very difficult stage. Preschoolers have an important job. Their job is to separate from you and establish their own identity. To do this, they start pushing limits and saying, “No,” “mine,” and “me do it.” This is an important part of their growth.
Yet, they are also completely dependent upon you for almost everything. They have legitimate needs- physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually your job is to meet. Their job is to need you and begin to separate from you. Your job is to warmly, lovingly, consistently enforce safe boundaries in a gentle but firm way. Your job is to protect their development and make sure they are getting the rest and nurture they need along the way.
While you may have survived through passivity in your childhood, passivity doesn’t work in parenting. If you feel unable to protect your children from threats and danger, your feelings of helplessness are raising your stress levels and lowering your ability to respond to your children’s needs. From a demanding spouse that wants you in church every time the doors are open to a verbally abusive spouse to a physically abusive spouse, there is a broad spectrum of the kinds of stress you might be under. Don’t be tempted to minimize that. You will have to set boundaries and manage your own stress so you can be present and active with your child at this very active stage of their lives.
When your children are in physical or emotional distress, your temptation may be to minimize or ignore their legitimate feelings and needs. This gets even worse if you are in an unsafe home situation (or your child is cared for by an unsafe caregiver). In this situation, your toddler could very easily be harmed by a controller.
Don’t force your kids to digest the same heaping dose of neglect that you faced as a kid. And don’t force them to be dragged along by a controller’s demands and whims. If your child is acting out or throwing a tantrum, at this stage, it is likely because they feel alone, afraid, unprotected, hurt, sick, thirsty, hungry, and/or tired.
Typical Traits of Victim Parents
- being compliant and losing yourself
- feeling hurt, overpowered, and controlled
- suppressing, not expressing, your anger, hurt, and frustration
- feeling overwhelmed and stuck
can wear on you and leak out on your children. Milan and Kay found that many victim parents can have these traits:
- don’t know what is age appropriate for their kids
- are shut down or depressed
- frustrate easily or snap at your child
- don’t have good self-care
- feel powerless to help their child or themselves
- feel they can’t protect their child in ways parent’s normally would
- sleep or leave their children for extended periods of time
- struggle with anxiety and phobias
- are in an abusive situation and may abandon the kids to get out of the spouse’s way
- find themselves saying, “It’s not that bad” and maybe even training themselves to believe it, when it is clearly a lie.
You may find yourself too strict toward your kids in being intolerant of mistakes and normal-for-their age behaviors. You may at the same time find yourself under-protective. After all, you weren’t protected as a kid, so you might not be aware of legitimate dangers. You’ll have to look at a situation and say, “Could my child get hurt in any way?” For example- sending your child across a store to go to the restroom by themselves in this day in age is just not safe. Letting kids play in a woods with a lake in the middle by themselves is dangerous. Allowing your kids to cook alone or play with fire is asking for trouble.
With kids of all ages, if you are watching television or playing video-games when your kids are around, make sure you aren’t exposing your children to content they are not able to process and that distorts God’s design for healthy sexuality and morality.
On top of normal developmental stages that must be considered, each child has his/her own personality, physiology, and style that must be taken into account when parenting. Don’t fall into the lie that, “If it’s time to eat, the child must be hungry. If its time to leave, the kids was done playing. If mommy needs rest and quiet, then little Susie must feel like staying in her room and whispering to her dollies to be quiet for Mommy.” If you have a controlling spouse that believes that, it is not your job to walk on eggshells and teach your children to do the same.
You and your spouse might get to say what the child gets to do, but not what the child wants to do. Babies and toddlers are not at a stage on development in which they can comply to an adult dictating what they need and when. Since they cannot developmentally comply, if you don’t understand developmental ages and stages, you may be extremely frustrated and angry when your kid doesn’t do, feel, or act as you expect. Your child is a unique individual, and this is a critical stage as they develop that independence. Stifling that could create a lot of problems for both you and your child.
With School-Aged Kids and Teens
If you are living in a situation with an abusive partner, then you might tend to:
- teach your children to walk on eggshells
- welcome parentification of your children (children that become responsible and help you and other siblings the way an adult should)
- make excuses for the abusive parent or accept blame for their angry outbursts
- blame the children for setting off the abusive partner.
Here’s the truth: Your angry, abusive partner is 100% responsible for his/her emotions. Nothing you can do can control their responses or prevent them. Neither can anything your children do. If you feel like you are at least partially responsible or have power in this situation by your behavior to prevent their angry outbursts, then you need to get help with codependency. Programs like Alanon and Celebrate Recovery help with this, as do counselors. Check out this book: Codependent No More.
Fallout From Taking Responsibility for What Doesn’t Belong To You
Taking responsibility for something that you aren’t responsible for (your partner’s emotions and responses) will only hurt you and your kids. Your kids will likely develop deep hurt and anger from this or from being blamed for the angry person’s responses. This anger can easily turn around on you as many children in this situation grow up learning to abuse their victim parent as well.
Fallout with Teens
There are various kinds of fallout that may or may not apply to your situation. But be aware:
If your teenager feels more mature emotionally than you, he/she may become enmeshed with you- like a surrogate spouse, or they may become like a surrogate parent. This is very confusing and unhealthy for both of you.
If your teen is seeking to cope in their own unhealthy ways, you may rescue them from healthy, normal life consequences. Overlooking harmful behavior in your child is hurtful to them and sets them up to establish unhealthy patterns in their own adult lives. Protecting their ability to continue is another form of codependency. If you are afraid to lose your child in some way by setting boundaries, you may be relying on your child emotionally in a way that you should only be relying on another adult. Someone developed strong terms to define this pattern of a parent establishing a situation in which their child functions as a surrogate spouse. They call it emotional incest. This terms helps parents remember- we are in a family to support and nurture our children; they are not here to support and nurture us.
You may be wondering what you might be doing that could be a problem for your kids. Ask yourself if you tend to (mildly, moderately, or severely):
- feel intimidated by your spouse and child
- be unable to protect your kids from a dominant partner
- feel isolated and overpowered
- frustrate easily and have poor coping skills
- struggle with decisions, providing opinions, and giving advice to your child
- exhibit outbursts of angry behavior toward your child
- be under-structured or overly rigid
- be addiction-prone and overwhelmed by your own pain and insecurities
- behave childishly or like a doormat
- make poor choices and neglect my child when overwhelmed or preoccupied
- feel incompetent to set and hold healthy boundaries (age-appropriate discipline) for your children
- have no concern for your child’s needs/lack awareness of age-appropriate expectations
- be intrusive; impose unreasonable demands on your child to conform
- yell, disrespect, and seep out the ick on your kids
- be moody and unpredictable; nonchalant and dismissive of things that matter
How to Be Successful with Teens
Your teen’s job is to develop independence and grown into a responsible adult with internalized boundaries and character. If you don’t work with God in this process, may be tempted to give your teens complete independence without training them to internalize boundaries and character. Teens need to be shown what healthy boundaries and self-respect look like. They need boundaries from parents and in their parents’ lives to show them how to have safe, healthy boundaries around relationships, sexuality, screen time, and even fun. As they exhibit loving, respectful, responsible behaviors, teens ought to earn more independence. When they don’t, instead of reacting, you can respond with gentle but firm boundaries. Tons of great parenting books and classes exist to help you through this stage. If you want something quick, check out Henry Cloud’s free class on Boundaries for Parents here or on Boundaries.me.
The Real Problem: Passivity
You learned to survive as a child through passivity. You can say, “Thank you,” to your passivity and compliance which helped you survive to adulthood. And then you can kiss them on the head and send them away. You are an adult now. Tolerating verbal, emotional, mental, psychological, financial, sexual, and/or physical abuse from a partner does not help anyone. It hurts your partner (or parent, boss, sibling- whoever might be dominating you), because it enables them to remain emotionally stunted and encourages them to continue hurtful patterns. Their behavior harms the children, stunts their growth, and sets them up to develop harmful patterns in adulthood, either as a controller or victim themselves. Abusive behavior hurts you, and you being used and victimized is not part of God’s plan.
God doesn’t want you to be hurt in any way so that He can use that. He isn’t a slave master using you. God is your protector and provider (certainly not your abusive partner), and He will walk with you each step to help you get safety.
How To Get Safe
If you aren’t in a safe situation (if you are still suffering verbal, mental, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, and/or physical abuse), then that is not a safe place to express your anger. Get safe. Get with safe people. And grow in expressing your anger there. If you and your spouse can get into counseling together, this can be a safe place for you to begin to express your anger. But, it wouldn’t be marriage counseling. You would need a counselor who understands abuse and could work on helping your spouse develop empathy and remorse and change in their behavior toward you. Normal “marriage counseling” isn’t possible in abuse situations. Underlying issues of safety, trust, and possibly addiction need dealt with before you work on the marriage itself. Many well-meaning counselors commit secondary abuse by going straight into marriage counseling and unwittingly place blame or responsibility on a victim without walking with the couple to help ensure the abuse stops. For a victim reaching out for help- perhaps for the first time- this can be very damaging, further isolating them and compounding the hurt. Check out Mending the Soul:
Check out Help! I’m Married to A Controller or I Have a Victim Love Style. What Now?. If you experience psychological, verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, or physical abuse in your relationship, it’s time to take steps to set healthy boundaries and create safety for yourself and children. That is beyond the scope of this blog, but if this is you, begin getting safe community and support to help you as you learn how to do this. Healing takes place in a safe nurturing environment. You may have been isolated through the years, buy you will need safe community from caring people to heal.
- Look up the nearest domestic violence shelter and see what services they offer. They may offer you and your children a place to get safe while your spouse chooses whether or not to get safe. They may also offer outpatient services, like our local Harmony House that offers relationship training, which is like amazing educational coaching to help you know what boundaries you might need and how to set them, how to relate to others, and how to be whole and healthy yourself.
- Check out 12 step groups such as Celebrate Recovery and Alcoholic’s Anonymous/Alanon. Addictions are often a part of a controller or victim’s life (whether you or someone else is addicted), and groups like this offer support to both the addicted and those who love them. These are Free. Sponsors and Step Study groups can help you grieve your pain, learn to set boundaries, and help you get strong while in a nurturing environment of safety, honesty, accountability, and care in relationships that stick with you through the hard. And the support can be amazing. If you visit one 2-3 times and it doesn’t seem like a good fit, try a few weeks at another. Each community has a different feel.
- If you are in an violent or physically abusive situation, call 911.
Your Children in Trauma: Unable to Mature Emotionally
Being in a traumatic situation causes trauma in the children, who must repress their own feelings to manage Mom or Dad’s feelings. Again, everything is a continuum. Milan and Kay give an example of a woman whose pastor husband demanded they all be at church whenever the doors were open and serve and participate in so many things that they were all desperately tired and unhealthy. Failing to set boundaries for the health of herself and her children was trauma. Children learn not to feel the normal feelings that come in abusive situations (anger, grief, frustration, desperation, rage, depression). Thus, the trauma freezes children developmentally, allowing them to grow physically while unable to mature emotionally and relationally. If you are with a controlling spouse, check out A Child’s Response to A Controller in Transformational Parenting for the Controller.
So What Can I Do to Grow?
When you were an innocent child, you were abused, neglected, trampled on, left in terrible fear that you had to deal with alone. Your heart and needs were ignored. Seek to:
- recognize the anger of others is not your fault
- get into safe relationships where you are seen, heard, valued, and even re-parented while learning to accurately assess your situation.
- recognize just what you lost through the painful events of your childhood. Grieve your losses and develop compassion for yourself. Only then can you have compassion for your kids.
- develop healthy friendships with safe people
- get verbal and physical assertiveness training
- be involved in small groups at a grace-centered, Bible-teaching church
- join a recovery group where you can have support and community
- manage your stress
- learn to speak the truth and use your voice
- set healthy boundaries
- be willing to lose a relationship with an abusive person if they will not respect your steps to assert yourself, set healthy boundaries, have a voice, and be a human being in the relationship.
- safeguard your physical health
Every single change you make helps your children become more secure as you become more healthy, safe, and strong.
Read more in I Have a Victim Love Style. What Now?
How Can I Help My Child
You may have caused stress in your child, but you can provide relief instead. Milan and Kay explain that to do this, you can follow their comfort circle:
- Seek awareness
- Engage (speak the truth in love)
- Resolution (brings comfort and relief)
Behind your child’s behavior are strong feelings and fears driving them. They need help to learn how to get control of these feelings and their behaviors. Help your kids become aware of these feelings. Regularly talk through Milan and Kay’s free list of Soul Words together, finding the right feelings to express what is going on inside. Better yet, get a better feel of the comfort circle through their books.
Create a safe environment to explore and discuss feelings. Begin to recognize when your kids are grumpy, scared, standoffish, or extra clingy. Something is going on inside.
Sincerely seek to understand your child- for who they are. Help them process what is going on inside. You can provide comfort just by asking in a warm, loving way. Communicate things like:
- How are you feeling about __________. I want to know, because I care about you.
- You matter to me.
- You seem upset. I feel that way, too when something is bothering me. I wonder what is on your mind?
- Tell me more. I want to understand.
- Are there other times you have felt this same way?
Your children might feel upset or hurt because of neglect, passivity, and detachment on your part. Listen by asking more questions to understand. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Show up as an adult who is growing and learning to be able to protect yourself and them.
The key here is to ask your child “What do you need right now?” Find out if there is any way you can comfort or help them.
Perhaps you did or said something that hurt them.
If you did, give them a sincere apology, explaining what you did, that it was wrong, and that you will work hard to not do it again.
Look out for Addictions
You may be leaning on addictions to “deal with” your pain. You may feel completely out of control to them and unable to get free. Milan and Kay put it this way:
“Addictions are the most common method of finding relief. The constant torment they once endured on the outside has traveled inside to become their closest “friend”: a familiar place of pain with no apparent escape.”
You may tend to tend to escape through playing video games, doing drugs, drinking alcohol, doing pornography, gambling, or overspending. You may believe these help you feel better at least for a little bit, especially when you’re really stressed out. But they leave you isolated and full of regret and shame that keep you in the shadows and out of the strong, vibrant relationships you could be having with those most important to you.
Get the help you need to get free of your addictions. Do whatever it takes. You are pouring out all the best parts of you in relationship to this addiction- not to your spouse or children. Don’t lose their hearts or their presence in your life. Check out resources like Celebrate Recovery and find a counselor through Focus on the Family’s Free Counseling Session and help finding a counselor.
A Word To Parents of Adults
As Henry Cloud explains it, parenting adult children (excluding special situations, such as disability), is an oxymoron. Once your children are adults, you are still Mom or Dad, but your job of parenting is over. If you struggle with knowing how to come alongside your grown children without feeling you need them, check out His series on Parenting in Boundaries.me. You can watch it for free here.
You may be reading this because someone dear to you is a controller. A future blog will deal with how you can come alongside (not fix) your loved one. Be sure to follow so you don’t miss these.
Want To Know More?
Milan and Kay Yerkovich wrote a great book called How We Love: Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage. The workbook quoted and drawn from in this post is very helpful and practical for taking steps toward growth. They have a whole series for singles, couples, counselors, etc at How We Love. (note, I’m not an affiliate or anything. I just have benefited from these resources and want to share).
More Posts In the Series:
If you’d like to know more about love styles, check out the Entire Love Style Series.
The key teachings of this post are consolidated from Milan and Kay Yerkovich’s excellent resources. I highly encourage you to find out more from them directly:
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Discover Your Love Style Enhance Your Marriage. Christian Audio.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Workbook: Making Deeper Connections in Marriage. Waterbrook: 2017.
- Milan & Kay Yerkovich. How We Love Our Kids: The Five Love Styles of Parenting. How to End the Struggles and Tension. The Crown Publishing Group: 2011.
Copyright © 2022 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.