When Parents Idealize Themselves

This is a repost from my restored archives. It was re-uploaded June 16, 2018. 

“I don’t think they mean to be abusive, though.”

I hear those words at least once a week. People come to me with their stories, and I point out patterns of abuse, and they rush to the defense of the loved one.

It could be an ex, a current partner or spouse. Parents. Siblings. Managers, coworkers, anyone. People abuse people, and very, very few of them get up in the morning thinking, “I’m going to abuse someone who loves me today.”

Is abuse intentional? What if the victim still has feelings of affection for their abuser? How can abusers minimize what they do? Why does damage control look so sincere? Why are onlookers confused when they hear such vastly different sides to the same story?

I know the answers to these questions, and they ran through my head as I read the article Cindy Kunsman posted about me yesterday. She called it Breaking the Pattern of Idealizing Parents: Cynthia Jeub and the Trap of All-or-Nothing.

First, Kunsman writes about the pattern of all-or-nothing. Children have no room for ambiguity, and there’s severe punishment for stepping out of line, even slightly, even if it wasn’t on purpose. In the case of my own parents, the rules changed often, and sometimes dad decided we should be punished for a rule made after we’d broken it. My early childhood was filled with fear of making the smallest mistake, but until adulthood, I never knew that I was living with anxiety.

I believed that I was safe, my parents were reasonable and loving, and I would never have dared to complain about them, even to myself. After all, the sin of rebellion begins in the heart, and a good Christian takes every thought captive. If I ever felt a hint of resentment or frustration at an unfair situation, having no privacy, being overworked, or taking a beating, I suppressed it. To do otherwise would be disrespectful, and children must obey and honor their parents.

Kunsman was spot-on in her description of idealizing parents, but the conclusion of her article was personal, and it made me feel misunderstood and unheard. It wasn’t the incorrect details that bothered me – I have three adult sisters, not two, and we were on TV in 2007, not 2008, and Alicia lives in Denver, not the other side of the world. It was the way she equated my perspective with that of my parents, grandmother, and younger brothers and sisters.

I grew up being silenced to the point of silencing myself. I’m okay with the different perspectives put in a convenient list of links because people can hear the story and conclude for themselves what really happened. My little brothers and sisters in the podcast offer the most revealing evidence against my parents. They talked about the rages my mother flies into, of the times she throws things and used makeup to cover my brother’s bruises, and called it normal, defending the story we’ve been fed: The Jeub Family brand is Love, and we are Loving, and you must believe that Love Is The Most Important Thing, and Everything We Do Is Love.

Kunsman’s conclusion about how to respond to my family’s public scandal of abuse was this:

“In time, may history bear out a story wherein the parties involved honor one another’s perspectives and pain through mutual respect. May they all find their way out of the trap of all-or-nothing. May living color replace the extremes of objectified black and white.”

Seeing those words, and seeing someone saying I should be just as willing to see the other side as my abusers, made me feel unheard.

I feel unheard because I’ve already done those things. I wrote about the prophetic urge to wash the feet of my family before they betrayed me. I wrote about seeing color beyond black and white. I wrote about seeing my mother’s shame and self-blame, and the intricacies of why she treated me the way she did. I recounted many fun times and travels and good memories and said of course it wasn’t all bad.

I feel unheard because I’ve done nothing but honor other perspectives. Whenever my brothers defend my parents publicly, I comment to ask for gentleness and understanding. Even though I can’t hold my kids closely anymore, I will fight for them. Last time I saw my brother Micah, I told him over and over, “It doesn’t matter if I’m right or not. Your perspective and your feelings matter, and our parents never let you have your own perspective.” When my dad called me mentally ill and offered me money to get me to take my posts down, I knew that he was being as sincere as he is capable of being.

My father can’t see himself as an abuser. The only explanation he can conjure is that I must be the problem, and so are my sisters, and everyone else who’s ever tried to call him out for his actions.

Does that justify him? Does it mean it’s not abuse? Of course not. He needs to be held accountable, and I know he’s incapable of seeing it himself. Publicity is the only option at this point.

Damage control looks sincere because it’s the legitimate priority of an abuser who is a public figure. My parents pretended they were wonderful people, and they forced their children to play along, and they still surround themselves with people who will also play the game. The scary thing is that when you’re living a fantasy, it bleeds between publicity and privacy. My parents are so out of touch with themselves, they actually believe that they are good people who don’t deserve my apparent slander. That’s why our stories are so different.

Yes, parents idealize themselves and it silences the children. To conclude that by saying that I, as the outspoken victim of such a case, need to respect their perspective, is to show that you are not listening to me. If you were listening, you’d see that I’m already doing that. They still have a dozen children feeding their fantasy. The perspectives are out, and I’m listening. I’ve been listening to them all my life, I know their cycles of manipulation well.

I don’t need more people saying, “Talk it out, listen more.” I’m waiting for someone to say, “Children, your feelings matter. Children, your voices matter. Children, speak, and we will listen to you.”