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Coping (Part 2)

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Maintaining Control: Seeking safety in religion, Heading the household, Controlling the spending

There is safety in religion, truly there is. A religious community is one of the few places in modern society where people truly help each other without extortion. Don’t expect that from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families! That program has so many rules to “keep people from abusing the system” that it abuses the people who need a safety net. The checks and balances are so unreasonable and arbitrary that they succeed mostly at showing honest people that deceit is necessary when dealing with the government. Oh, and then there are the rules about how one has to respect the employees. 

There are no rules about the employees having to respect the clients, and they don’t. If you want to see just how badly you can be treated, go sit in a County Human Services office. My family of origin is just as bad. Maybe worse. At least the County Human Services office doesn’t care about you when they’re done abusing you, if you’re lucky enough to be able to get “out” of the system. Unfortunately, the strings and encumbrances that my family would attach would go on forever, and their mistreatment far outweighs the degradation from the County, as it is actually abusive.  

Luckily, churches don’t operate that way. It is rather difficult to just walk into a church on a whim and get a hand-out, but if you become a member of the church community (which usually happens just by attending on a semi-regular basis for a couple of months), they’ll be there to help you. The problem with religion is that everybody’s religion is just a little bit different, and any religious community that is helping you out is going to expect you to conform to their ideas of morality. That morality may shift, depending on just who you happen to be talking to. There isn’t room for you to have your own opinions and values and interpretations if you happen to be needy.

This is especially so among so-called “fundamentalist” groups. They have some strange ideas regarding abuse, too. Some of them seem to still believe that rape is a crime of lust inspired by a female flaunting herself; i.e. the woman who is raped is the perpetrator and the rapist is the victim of her seductive behavior. Some of them seem to believe that it is better to be killed by an abusive husband than divorced from him. This would include being killed by contracting fatal STD’s such as Hepatitis C or HIV. The manner of abuse doesn’t seem to be relevant, either. That “head of the household” stuff is used to keep women in their place, which includes to be beaten into submission.

Now, my Bible states that the original intent was that the husband be in servitude to the household, to support and maintain them to the best of his ability. I believe that is the concept behind the phrase “man up” as used by young adults. It is a gift from God that unsuspecting young adults with no religious intent or training can sometimes summarize a biblical point far better than great (albeit self-serving) theologians. The point is, religion can be helpful and can help you move yourself towards safety, but be careful how much of your soul you sell in the process. That’s always been a difficult balance for me. I feel no shame in keeping to my own moral standards and values—the ones that are between me and my God. Evasion has been my strong suit. That Higher Power that the twelve-step programs use has been useful for me, although I haven’t felt the usefulness of the rest of the parts of the programs. Maybe my Higher Power is enough. Talking things over with God helps me maintain my self-control and think through my options. It’s almost trance-like in some ways, in that while praying, I sometimes see options that I didn’t see previously. It works, and that’s good enough for me. I’ve found religious groups that worked for me, and even found one recently, but it’s far enough away to be problematic to go to. Dilemmas are a part of life.

Heading the Household and Controlling the Spending
I do best when I am the head of the household. I like the autonomy of making all of the decisions. I find that I can compromise in a relationship, but I’ve never been in a relationship where I felt that I wasn’t being used. I’ve never had someone actually care as much about me as they do about themselves. Well, maybe my oldest daughter, but that’s not the kind of relationship I’m talking about. Even my other children are selfish about resources. I’m hoping that’s a maturity issue, and they will eventually grow up. Some days I have hope, and some days I despair. Time will tell. If I am the head of the household, I am free to make decisions in the best way I see possible. This hasn’t always meant doing what’s best for me. Often, it has meant doing what’s best for my family – meaning me and my children.  To be a parent is to be self-sacrificing, and I often have been. At the same time, I’ve created some balance for me because I don’t want to resent my children the way my mother did. I want to cherish and enjoy my children. In that, I’ve been successful for the most part.

The concept of controlling the spending goes right along with heading the household. If I am in control, then I know what is going on and there may be nasty surprises, but they are of my own doing. There are usually far less of them, too. I can live with that. I’ve never had a relationship that did not require me to be very careful to look out for myself both emotionally and financially. I don’t have one waiting in the wings, either. I don’t think I’ve even ever had a partnership. My need for control seems to be rooted in choosing partners who look out for themselves at my expense.

I remember telling my first husband that the problem with our relationship was that I put him first and the kids second and myself last, expecting him to put me first, the kids second and himself last to maintain balance, but instead he also put himself first, the kids second and me last. He had the honesty to tell me that I was exactly right and he felt that was the way it should be and he had no plans to make any changes whatsoever. Then he wondered why I left him! That is the kind experience that leaves permanent psychological scars. It’s also the kind of relationship that a formerly abused person falls into, because the abuse is so much better than previous abuse that it takes a while to catch on to. Sometimes there is an element of trying to change the past, too.

If a potential partner reminds you of a parent who should have loved you and protected you but didn’t, except for this part or that part is better, then you think that you can make them better. That’s been a subconscious thought process that I’ve recognized for some time, but I am just now working on figuring out how to bring that into the light of day and make it a part of my conscious decision-making efforts. I think I might have saved myself much time, effort and grief if I had been able to do so earlier, and to some extent I grieve even now for the huge chunk of my life that I’ve lost to this messed-up thinking process.


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