Thursday, April 9, 2009

Let It End With Me

This article, in the September 2001 Ensign, is from a woman who grew up in an abusive home. Her name has been withheld.

After an abusive upbringing, I was determined to stop the cycle of humiliation and violence.

When I was a child, our home was a battleground, rarely safe, rarely peaceful. Our family's daily interpersonal communication consisted mostly of ridicule, sarcasm, and criticism. Approval and warm feelings for each other were nonexistent, as were words of courtesy and apology. We did not listen or have discussions. Instead, we became proficient in arguing, fighting, name-calling, accusing, and faultfinding.

Looking back, I see that our family appeared healthy on the outside. Our parents served in Church callings, and we children were well behaved and knowledgeable. The rest of the world saw accomplished scholars, talented musicians, and capable artists. They did not know that each of us felt isolated and worthless. They could not see the shame and embarrassment our parents felt because we were not perfect. I never even considered telling anyone about our treatment at home, even when my mother dislocated my jaw by hitting me.

In our home, family prayers, family home evenings, and Church activity coexisted with physical violence and emotional battering. Upon arriving home from church, it was common for everyone from oldest to youngest to receive a sound thrashing. How could a family live such a paradox?

Despite my difficult upbringing, I had a testimony and made it my goal to rear a righteous family in the gospel. As a young wife and mother, I diligently did everything I knew to reach my goal, but it was difficult. Something was missing. I often found myself feeling impatient and critical toward my husband and children. It seemed I could never remember in time to stop my harsh words or refrain from striking a child. I felt guilty and unhappy with myself.

As my married life continued, I increasingly sought out positive influences. My sweet, patient mother-in-law became my role model, and I tried hard to emulate her. I read the scriptures daily, and, as I became more acquainted with them, my desire to be like the Savior grew stronger. Occasionally, I would experience the sweet feelings of the Holy Spirit. I yearned to feel its influence constantly, but I couldn't. The contrast between being with and being without the Spirit became more obvious to me.

One Sunday in Relief Society, the lesson was about becoming more Christ like. My desire to become better had become intense. When our teacher gave us personal questionnaires designed to get us thinking about how we could become more Christ like, I took it home, determined to complete it. The first two columns were easy to fill out -- a list of things I wanted to change in myself and then a list of specific courses of action to make those changes. But when I tried to tackle the last column, the struggle began. I had to list my strengths and good points, and I honestly could not think of any. Tears flowed and frustration mounted as guilt surrounded me. I prayed urgently for help, and finally I talked to my husband. He reminded me of some of my strengths, but I could hardly hear his encouraging words as the battle raged inside me. Conflicts about myself tormented me. It was several days before I could face that handout again. Yet in spite of my insecurities and fears, I was determined to be open and honest, no matter how much it hurt. As I struggled to think of my strengths, the realization that I was Heavenly Father's child suddenly surfaced and calmed my pain and tears. I realized that as a child of God I must have inherited some positive characteristics from Him. My pencil began to haltingly fill out that final column, and with the Lord's help I finished it. It was a major victory for me!

As the years unfolded, my husband was my guide as he constantly encouraged, taught, and loved me. We worked together to create order and promote harmony in our home. I was a willing but slow student because many of the gospel's teachings were foreign to my experience. For example, I had to learn to recognize and accept kindness before I could become kind inside. In the scriptures I read that "the Lord God hath given a commandment that ll men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing" (2 Ne. 26:30). As I thought about having the pure love of Christ in my heart and life, I realized that obtaining charity is a journey and that I was finally, consciously, embarking upon it.

I believe that my desire to be obedient to the Lord was one of my greatest gifts as I went through my soul-wrenching changes. Though my understanding was limited at first, I feel like I was blessed simply because I was trying so hard. It seemed that as soon as I learned one lesson, other lessons came as quickly as I could handle them. I knew I couldn't do it myself and humbly admitted that to the Lord and begged for His help. He tender mercies showered me. Help came in unexpected ways, and I began to recognize the Lord's hand in all things. Hungrily I partook of the scriptures, books, tapes, lectures, classes, and anything else I could find that gave me positive information and assistance. When I went for some professional therapy, I made some major behavioral leaps.

Gradually I was able to replace old attitude and habits. I began to love myself. Peace came even through my struggles. Slowly, as I became more loving and gentle, I could feel everyone in our home following my example. As my self-control has improved, I find that I am enjoying being a mother and feeling the Holy Spirit in our home.

It feels marvelous to know that one of the blessings of my repentance, and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, is to have a home that is safe and peaceful. And now as a parent, I can say that our home is not a battleground.

Cornnut is an art lover and an advocate for child abuse prevention.
She loves being a wife and a mother. Check out her personal blog, Picture of Experience .

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