I sat with several other children in the dark, dank little basement of the church where my father was pastor. Karen Wray, my Sunday School teacher, pointed to the classic drawing of Jesus welcoming the children. I pondered it for a long time. Nobody in my home greeted me like that, and no one in the church knew what was going on when my family left the building on Sunday mornings.

My father had a well-developed system in place and the institutional church fit his narrative to a tee. God was not the author of life, my father thought he was.

I stared at the picture again. The children looked so happy. Mrs. Wray said that God loved everybody. I wasn’t sure what that meant but somehow, deep in my heart, I knew people like Karen Wray were different from my family. Did I have any worth or value? Karen Wray said I did, but it would be a long time before I began to believe it.

It all fell apart twenty years later. I was busy trying to feed the insatiable appetite of a narcissistic father and a borderline mother and my parents were busy clawing each other to death. As an adult and living on my own, the chaos of my childhood followed like a biting snake that just wouldn’t let go. The patterns of abuse and manipulation did not stop just because I grew up. Physically, I was beyond their grasp, but emotionally, I was shoveling everything I could think of into the demanding black hole of my family system. The only thing getting any smaller was me.

The Christmas my parents finally separated, I watched as my mother sat in her empty mansion trying to recover from her latest suicide attempt. She had alienated everyone and everything in her life. I was afraid of her. She was violent and angry one moment, pleading and crying the next; her face permanently fixed with a dark scowl of despair and rage.

My father demanded to move in with my husband and me while he pursued a divorce. Doubled over with anxiety, I watched as my young sons opened their presents that Christmas. It was the most miserable holiday I ever experienced. My father moved out a few months later, but their divorce dragged on for nearly a decade with me spinning and running and participating in all the madness.

Narcissistic family systems and patterns are powerful and impenetrable because they use the same techniques as a cult; violence, punishment, fear, manipulation, threats and brainwashing. These techniques keep family members enslaved to the system.

The hope that someday we might be loved, someday, we might be understood is a bright inner light that dies a slow death. This longing coupled with the terror of leaving makes overriding the system very difficult.

I thought about that little girl sitting in the church basement so long ago. She was kind and sweet and very cute. Smart and eloquent, gifted and talented, she would go on to survive years of psychological, emotional, and physical abuse. If you have experienced similar adversity, know that you are special and unique even more so for what you have endured. You have the ability to override the system because the battle is not a power encounter. It is a truth encounter. When truth and understanding fill your heart and mind, the power of the system is revealed for what it is; a house of cards built on lies. Taking one step at a time, you can begin to live the life you should have had all along. 

You may contact the author, Rebekah Brown at [email protected]


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