Love is blind. It has also been accused of being deaf and mute. There is good reason people have attached these labels to such a wonderful word. When we love someone we tend to overlook their shortcomings and even hurtful words or actions directed at us. While it is commendable to overlook a transgression it can also be dangerous to ignore these red flags & warning signs. We tend to forgo seeking an apology. We avoid bringing up the matter in the hope that things will just work themselves out. A common statement after a relationship ends is, “I saw this coming a long time ago,” or “I knew this was going to happen.” Welcome to Red Flags & Warning Signs.
In healthy families things are worked out. The offender recognizes their mistake and either through word or deed, apologizes. “…love covers over a multitude of sin.” First Peter 4:8. When we love sacrificially, we are willing to forgive. We don’t run around telling others what has been done by our brother or sister in Christ, nor does it mean that we should sweep it under the rug. There are those who will take advantage of the forgiving nature of love in an effort to hide egregious sins. True Christ like love seeks to protect both the victim and the offender and takes action to prevent any further offences. It is important to acknowledge the hurt when it happens. At that point we really only have two choices, overlook it or deal with it.
When a once close relationship ends, it has usually been a long time coming. Looking back, even as far as your childhood, you may now recognize a traumatic event as a foreshadowing of things to come. If you were a child of divorce, did you have to live with relatives or your God parents for a period of time? Did your new stepparent accept you as one of their own, or were you threatened with boarding school? As a child, you don’t even know what a red flag is, much less have the power to do anything about it. Our heavenly Father keeps a close eye on children. Thinking back, do you remember those who protected you, those who watched out for your best interests? God put them there. Blended families have become common place in today’s society and growing up in one can be complicated and challenging. It is important to remember that, before God, stepparents have the same responsibilities as your biological parents.
That persistent feeling of being on the outside looking in whenever you’re with your family is a major red flag. Emotional abuse is at the top of the list as the major contributing factor in family estrangement. At it’s core, it’s all about power and control. Feeling uncomfortable, insecure or anxious around your family is not a good sign of an emotionally healthy environment. If you find yourself constantly seeking reassurance that you’re part of the family it’s a good bet that you have toxic family members who are actively engaged in a campaign against you. We all have our own ideas of what a toxic person is but narcissism and other personality disorders are often sighted as underlying reasons for the label. Abusive and emotionally immature personalities along with alcoholic or addicted individuals are also referred to as “toxic.” The first step in moving on from the psychological torture of toxic people is to recognize their tactics.
Jealousy and envy
Jealousy and envy are major contributing factors of family dysfunction. Victims often feel blindsided by the sudden on-slot of abusive behaviour from a loved one because they have no idea what they’ve done or why it’s happening. Rarely is any explanation given by the offender and the punishment is often way out of proportion to the perceived slight. This may have nothing to do with anything the victim has actually done. A few examples of this could be favouritism by grandparents, success in business or just doing well in life period…who knows. A person motivated by jealously and/or envy will wait for any excuse, no matter how lame, to pounce on their victim. Character assassination is a common tactic used by abusers. They will begin a campaign of malicious gossip to anyone who is willing to listen, starting with those inside their circle of influence. Covert character assassination is a cowardly act designed to negatively influence how others feel about the victim. The abuser will use a combination of truth, half truths and outright lies behind the victim’s back in an effort to get others to “see what they see.” This is extremely painful when done to your spouse. If you recognize what’s going on and confront the abuser you are likely to be met with total denial and anger as they try to turn the tables on you. They may be trying to “divide and conquer” in an effort to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. Can you see why God hates those who sow discord? Proverbs 6:16-19. Typically these offenders are projecting onto the victim the very things that lie deep inside their own hearts. Feelings of insecurity and vulnerability have made them uncomfortable. They look for anything and everything they can use as an excuse to banish the victim from their lives. Whenever someone complains to me about what another person has done, I always suggest that they take it up with that person in private. This lets them know that I’m not interested in gossip.
Lack of Empathy
An inability or unwillingness to care about how your feeling or why you are feeling that way is another warning sign of impending estrangement. Empathy is a critical ingredient in the healing process, without it there can be no meaningful or lasting reconciliation. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects to be manipulated and controlled for their own benefit. They have a very difficult time understanding how their words and actions hurt others and are prone to angry outbursts and cruelty. It’s very much all about them. They refuse to take any responsibility for their behaviour and will lie if confronted. If they claim to be a Christian, then they know the consequences of lying, but do it anyway. Their anger at you will increase because, after all, it was you who made them lie. Can you see how mind bending this type of situation can be? If you continue to confront their abusive behaviour they will see you as a threat, one that has to be removed. My friend, listen to me carefully; This is not love lost, love doesn’t even come into it.
Control & Manipulation
Typically, a dysfunctional family consists of one abusive parent and one codependent parent who looks the other way. This is not what God intended the family unit to look like. The Bible describes the role of both husband and wife in Ephesians 5:22-25. Sadly this very scripture has been abused by some in an effort to manipulate the other. While each parent has a different part to play, God’s intention is that they work together in love, compassion, forgiveness and patience both with each other and their children. Children learn from their parents. When they witness abuse by the dominant parent and the weaker parent turns a blind eye they may even begin to believe that it’s their fault. Young children have no other basis of comparison, but as they get older the sins of the abusive parent can no longer be ignored. It is a common lament among estranged family members that someone would have come to their rescue and stood up against the abuser.
Red flags and warning signs of impending estrangement may begin with relatively small and insignificant provocations but can increase over time to major acts of cruelty, even total abandonment. Sibling rivalry happens naturally, of course, but it can also be fostered by a jealous parent. An example of this might be pictures of your siblings and their children being displayed prominently in your parents home while the only picture of you and your family is taken down because the frame is too nice.
Malicious gossip about your spouse is passed on to you from your own parent. This is when your very spirit is provoked. You try your best to defend them, you long for your spouse to be loved and accepted by your family but the disparaging remarks continue. Like a “constant dripping,” the instigator is relentless and can turn your entire family against you. Any attempt to bring peace and understanding is met with resistance and even angry outbursts. This leads to “no further discussions on the matter” and exclusion from family gatherings. For all intents and purposes…you’re out. The abuser will frequently play the victim in an effort to turn the tables on you. They will try and convince anyone who asks, that you are the cause of all their woes and that they are brokenhearted by the situation. Even after you’re gone … the lies continue.
Often we put off asking the hard questions because we are terrified of the answers. Oddly, deep inside, we already know the truth. My friends, listen to me carefully; if you suspect something is amiss in a close relationship, you owe it to yourself and your family to deal with it sooner rather than later. In healthy families there should be no fear of, or resistance to, honest questions being asked by any of it’s members. Secrets are extremely harmful to families but speaking the truth in love brings understanding and healing. Don’t be afraid of asking the tough questions. Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst and if the worst comes…accept it, embrace it, mourn the loss and move on. This can take many years, but the healing begins with acceptance. The Bible says “… as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18. If you have done everything that God would have you do to bring peace and healing to a broken relationship, then before Him, your conscience is clear. That’s all any of us can hope for.
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Images – Pixabay – collage by Mark Webb
gotquestions.org – What does it mean that love covers a multitude of sins?