Previously, I introduced Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing it, Stopping it, Surviving it (2007 Harvest House). Here’s some more tidbits from the rest of Part one (Seeing it):
1. Chapter two covers the typical emotional, physical, mental, relational, generational, and spiritual effects of destructive relationships. Of note, Leslie says, “Perhaps one of the most serious long-term relational effects of interpersonal sin is how it shapes our view of ourselves and others.” (p. 55). This is a good point. Those who grow up in one of these kinds of relationships are like a starving person in the corner of a banquet hall where only one person is allowed to eat, where all the food is only for one person. That starving person may then grow up and either become a demanding person who starves those in their own banquet hall (under the guise of, “I will never be treated that way again”) or remain highly dependant on others and open to continually being used.
2. Chapter 3 helps the reader to avoid seeing self only as wounded or victim but as one who, due to the fall, responds sinfully to a sinful world. Leslie does not let the reader use excuses (e.g., I was abused so I can’t help that I’m harsh with others) when confronted with one’s own destructive tendencies. She paints a picture of what a Godly response looks like when we come face to face with our own sinfulness: face our brokenness and ask for forgiveness; Take responsibility for your part of the problem; Make an effort to change. In contrast, the immature response to our brokenness: refusal to listen, defensiveness; Blindness and denial; Unwillingness to change (saying I know, I’m sorry doesn’t equal change).
This is where many couples flounder. They feel that if they agree with their spouse’s criticisms and acknowledge their own destructive patterns, the other will get off without having to admit theirs. And so we hear, “yes, I know that I shouldn’t…but you…”.
3. Chapters 4-5 explore destructive themes of the heart: pride, anger, envy, selfishness, laziness, evil, and fear. A key point is that many of the things we want and desire in relationships are not bad. The problem is that these things turn into demands. Who doesn’t want to be understood? But it is possible to make that a demand and an excuse for our own destructive patterns. We like to suggest that other people’s sins cause us to respond in kind. In fact the environment is only the trigger that exposes our heart’s demands. Finally, Leslie points out that fear may not look at controlling and destructive to relationships, “Relationally, fearful people don’t want to be gods, like the proud person does, but they allow their lives to be ruled by others instead of God.” And fear leads to the temptation to try to protect oneself from relational pain by demanding of others, “I need!”
What I like about Leslie’s writing (this and in other books as well) is that she avoids the black/white view of victims and victimizers. It is hard to read her books and not be convicted, even if you are suffering much at the hands of others.