Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Put Up The Christmas Tree!
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO PUT UP THE CHRISTMAS TREE.....
THE STRANGE PHENOMENA OF THE SURPRISE PRE-HOLIDAY CONTACT
By Rev. Renee Pittelli
Rev. Denise and I are sisters in spirit, heart, and truth. Having both gone through the “Birth- Family Wars” together, we have learned that sometimes a little humor is the best medicine. One of the things we love to kid each other about is that we can always tell when the holidays are coming because that's when the relatives who haven't spoken to us in years, or at least the better part of this year, start coming out of the woodwork! Others of our dear sisters have confessed to being bewildered, puzzled, and amused by this annual autumn event, a ritual that has become as predictable in some of our lives as back-to-school shopping, football games, and Homecoming weekend!
When the weather starts getting cooler and the days start growing shorter, and after the back-to-school rush is over- anywhere from mid-September on, our thoughts start turning to the coming holidays. We might start planning ahead a bit. We begin thinking about who we’ll be celebrating with, what gifts our loved ones might enjoy, where we might be spending this year’s winter vacation. We might start our Christmas shopping, write out our cards, or bake and store a few dozen cookies.
Then, just when we think we can look forward to a nice, peaceful, joyful holiday season, during which we can relax and have fun spending time with our loved ones, just when we think that maybe this year we can enjoy ourselves without reliving painful memories or the stress of having to deal with abusers who are finally out of our lives, just when we think it’s safe to loosen up and let our guard down ……… ( I’m humming the Twilight Zone theme here!)……The Letter arrives in the mail. Or The Phone Call comes. Or The E-Mail shows up in our in-box. Or God forbid, The Doorbell Rings!
And There THEY Are. Back again, just when we thought it was finally over, just when we were moving on with our lives, just when the peace and happiness of never having to think about them again was sinking in. It's so bizarre that for a few moments we may find ourselves disoriented. It’s like being all warm and snuggly, napping in front of the fire, dreaming a beautiful dream, and suddenly having a glass of ice water thrown in our faces when we least expect it. An imperious royal summons demanding immediate attention! The Christmas gift that keeps on giving- aggravation and anxiety, that is.
Of course, our prayer is that this strange phenomena could be used to foster restoration and reconciliation, but unfortunately our estranged relatives rarely seem to be operating in that spirit when they pop up! Instead, they seem to be “testing the waters” to see if we've “gotten over” our resolve to set limits on their behavior, so they can just pick up where they left off and resume the relationship without ever having to make any positive changes. Better yet, some are giving US a chance to apologize to THEM for not allowing ourselves to be abused anymore!
Intrusive as always, abusers, control-freaks and narcissists have a way of FORCING us to think about them and deal with them when that’s the last thing we want to do. They force themselves on us when we least expect it, when our guard is down, or when they know we will be distracted or busy with other things, like holiday preparations. Knowing that we are happy or excitedly anticipating a joyful event is their invitation to ruin as much of it as they can. We feel our joy slipping away as the black cloud of remembering them and what they’ve done to us settles over our heads.
When we finally get to the place in our healing where we have moved on, and are able to forget about them at last, they pop up again. Because, although we have managed to forget about them- and, let’s face it- we are probably relieved, and even GLAD, that they are gone- they haven’t forgotten about US! And for me, this is where the “creep factor” comes in. I find it weird and disturbing to be the focus of someone I no longer think about, who may be planning ways to re-establish contact I’m no longer interested in. Because they have proven themselves to be wicked, conniving, underhanded, treacherous, dishonest liars, I don’t trust my ex-relatives or their motives, so instead of welcoming the contact, I find myself wondering what they’re up to now and what they really want. But then, my family has actually stalked me, right up until the time I moved away (see the article “Why Don’t They Just Apologize?” on our website), so maybe they’re a bit creepier than most.
Denise and I have had this peculiar, surprise pre-holiday “reunion” attempted on us numerous times, and so have many of our sisters. Some of us had been disowned, snubbed, and not spoken to all year long- or for many years. Some of us were screamed at, called names, and had doors slammed in our faces or phones slammed in our ears for trying to explain to our abusers how hurtful their behavior was and politely requesting some changes. Some of us have had our abusers badmouth us both within and outside of the family, slandering us, lying about us, blaming us for the broken relationship, ruining our reputations, and instigating others to criticize or ostracize us as well. We had done all we could do to make it work out, and many of us were hurt, or even devastated, when it didn’t. Our family member made it abundantly clear that she never wanted to see us or speak to us again. And that was how it ended….or so we thought.
Then, out of the clear blue, when we’ve finally calmed down and started enjoying our freedom, just as we’re gazing at the lovely autumn foliage with a nice, steaming cup of tea, the envelope with the vaguely familiar handwriting appears in our mailbox, or our caller-ID shows a phone number that we think we’ve seen before. Could it be? No, it can’t be. Not after all this time! Every thought from “Uh-oh” to “Why now?” flashes through our minds. Is that first pot of mums or that pretty orange pumpkin that we just put out on our porch some kind of signal to our long-lost abusers? In some demented way, do they think that the new “Welcome” mat we tossed in front of the door to catch the dried leaves on our shoes is some personal message directed at them? What exactly is going on here?
Once the note is read, or the message is played back, we will be even more dumbfounded. No apology will have been given, no humble request to talk things over will be included- in fact, there will most likely be no mention of the rift at all. The message will be trite, perhaps asking us a question they suddenly “need” the answer to, or passing along some family news they “thought we would be interested in”, and contrived in such a way to get us to call or write back- for example, by omitting important details ( for instance,“Thought you’d want to know Aunt Rose is in the hospital”- without telling what happened or what hospital she’s in). It will be as if nothing had ever happened, as if we had been in touch all along and had a perfectly normal relationship all this time. Sometimes I am absolutely astounded that they might actually expect us to answer them.
It would be wonderful if the holidays could indeed be a catalyst for family reconciliation and restoration. This is a dream in many of our hearts, and our abusers know us very well. Many unscrupulous ex-relatives are well aware that we secretly harbor a wish for one big happy family (that we never had) sitting around the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table together. They have no hesitation in using this vulnerability to manipulate us into agreeing to re-establish contact with them, just in time for the holidays. Be assured, dear sister, that the timing of your “unexpected” contact is no coincidence.
It helps to keep in mind that abusers do not love anybody but themselves. It is highly unlikely that, after months, the entire year, several years, or many years, went by without our abusive relative realizing how much she loved us and missed us, all of a sudden, she loves and misses us so much that she wants us back in her life right now- and that epiphany just happens to coincide with the approaching holidays. If we put her off until January, will she still be so interested?
Selfishness is the defining trait of abusers, control- freaks, and narcissists- it is ALWAYS all about THEM, and their needs and desires. It is never about us, and they are not trying to do anything nice for us. Usually friendless and having few, if any, other relatives who will put up with her, our ex-relative is planning ahead for HER holidays, just like we are. The contrived reunion is often a blatant ploy to wangle an invitation. If it works, one wonders if our relative will still be speaking to us after the holidays are over, or if things will just go back to the way they were, now that she got what she wanted.
If our abuser is less shortsighted, she may have a bigger picture in mind. In that case, her perfectly timed surprise will be a clever manipulation- using guilt to pressure us to accept her back into the fold. How could we refuse to welcome her on Christmas or Thanksgiving? How could we still expect her to be accountable and change her offensive behavior? After all, ’tis the season of “goodwill”. Aren’t we ready to “let bygones be bygones?” Shouldn’t we “forgive and forget” during this Holy Season?
Forgive?- yes, IF there has been repentance- but not necessarily reconcile (see the section on “Forgiveness-Not Necessarily What You Think” on our website). Forget?- Not so fast- not until enough time has passed for our abuser to prove she really has changed. A seat at the Thanksgiving dinner table?- unlikely, at least for this year. Maybe next year, if it looks like the changes are permanent. That is, if our abuser is still interested in trying to prove herself after the holidays are over and she no longer has anything to lose by reverting to type.
When the “surprise” pre-holiday pop-up ploy is used, the last thing our long-lost relative expects is that we still intend to hold him accountable for what he has done. He is deliberately timing his contact for around the holidays to catch us when he thinks we will be vulnerable. He is counting on us being all warm and fuzzy and sentimental around the holidays. We are supposed to be overjoyed that he is back in touch- not cautious, hesitant, or even suspicious. We are supposed to welcome him with open arms, no questions asked, and no promise of change expected.
But the holiday season is not the time for us to ignore Jesus’ own words in the Gospel. That would seem quite hypocritical. During the holidays, as always, we refer to the Biblical model for forgiveness, which is repentance FIRST, THEN forgiveness (Luke 17:3). Repentance is not a mere, and possibly meaningless, apology. It is Godly sorrow, true remorse, and changing one’s life.
How wonderful it would be if our long-lost relative came to us in a true spirit of remorse and reconciliation- then maybe, just maybe, we actually could include him in our holiday celebrations this year, trusting that he has really changed and it is safe to restore the relationship- and to expose ourselves and our children to him once again. Unfortunately, this will seldom be the case, since control-freaks and abusers typically refuse to humble themselves to make amends. They will take offense at the notion that they have to prove they’ve changed, because in reality, they don’t believe they ever did anything wrong.
So how can we tell? It may take quite a while for us to be sure that an abuser has really changed. Years of mistreatment are not erased by one nice conversation. A lifetime of abuse is not erased by a few minutes, days, or even months, of proper behavior. There is nothing wrong with us if we are unable to trust someone who has a history of doing us wrong, based on a few halfway normal interactions. We have every reason to fear being hurt again by this person, and every reason to expect it. Jesus tells us to discern the spirit of a person by his fruit (Luke 6: 43-45, Matthew 7:17-20). It takes time to observe the fruit a person is producing in his life and to prayerfully consider what is being revealed to us. A recently reformed abuser, if he is indeed reformed, does not have much of a track record yet. Only time will tell- a significant amount of time, quite possibly a year or two. (for more on this, see our articles in the section “Repenting and Apologies” on our website).
Control freaks thrive on pulling our strings- getting us to jump just because they want us to. Old habits die hard, and many of us were used to jumping when our long-lost relative summoned us. But that was then, and this is now. Major betrayals, rifts, and long estrangements have a healthy way of changing the dynamics of a relationship. The only way to take control back from a control freak is to not allow her to control you any longer. Time to grow up and see ourselves as adults, equal to every other adult, with the same rights and freedoms as every other adult. And that means NO MORE JUMPING!
Control freaks and abusers believe that we don’t have any say in our own relationships- they are the ones who make all the decisions. In just about every aspect of life and relationships, they think they’re the boss! If they decide we are no longer on speaking terms, then that’s that. You and I have nothing to say about it. And if they suddenly decide that our “punishment” is over, and it’s time to speak to each other again, then they just pick up that phone or ring that doorbell, like nothing ever happened, and expect us to go along with their decision, because we have no choice. No thought is given to whether or not we welcome contact from them, because our wishes don’t matter, and never did. They want it, they want it now, and they are used to always getting what they want. As usual, it’s all about them.
But they are wrong. We do have a choice. They’re not the boss, and now is the time to teach that lesson. An estrangement is the perfect opportunity to break the pattern of our abuser making all the decisions and us just passively going along. Obviously, he has contacted us because he now wants something from us, although it may not yet be obvious exactly what it is that he wants. One lesson most of us have learned well from our abusers is that we can’t always get what we want (like a loving, respectful relationship), when we want it. Now is the time for our abuser to learn that very same lesson from us.
If he wants our cooperation, it will have to be on OUR terms, which means IF and WHEN and UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS we would be willing to resume contact. When it is convenient for us to devote time to him, and if we so choose, we might hear him out. If he has to wait a few months, so be it. After we have confronted him about his behavior and observed his reaction, then we will need time to think and pray about it before we make any decisions.
For a control freak or abuser, catching you off-guard and unprepared is an underhanded and devious way of getting you to talk to him, or to agree with whatever else he might want, without giving you a chance to think it over. Which is precisely why you must buy yourself the time to think it over and pray about it. When someone uses this tactic on you, you need to delay your response until you have taken AS MUCH TIME AS YOU NEED.
When my estranged relatives have maneuvered their pre-holiday surprises, I have found the best response is to NOT respond- until AFTER THE HOLIDAYS. The best way to protect myself and to be able to enjoy an aggravation-free holiday is to refuse to even think about those who have hurt me during the holidays. My philosophy is that they have ruined enough holidays for me and my family- I’m not going to let them ruin any more. I’m not going to give them even the tiniest place in my thoughts. I’m finally having the kind of wonderful holiday that I always missed out on, praise the Lord, and they’re not getting another opportunity to intrude and mess things up.
Whatever communication I get from ex-family members from September on, goes on the back burner till after the New Year. Then I will give some thought to what, if anything, I want to do about it. If I wish to write back or return the call, I can now devote sufficient distraction-free time to deciding how I’m going to handle it.
With some people, especially those with whom I might be interested in reconciling, I might let them know when they first pop up that I don’t have the time to devote any thought to their communication right now, and I’ll get back to them after the holidays, or whenever I can. However, some people will not respect my need for time to think over what I want to do. With such pushy people, I find it best to ignore their overtures and not respond at all until I’m ready to deal with them in depth (after New Year’s). I figure they waited this long (and made me wait!) to “mend fences”, they can wait a little longer. Those who were just fishing for a holiday invitation will lose interest in reconciling after the holidays, so at least I’ll know whether they were sincere or not. And I’ll also be forewarned that they may try the same tactic again before another holiday season. And then there are the truly evil, demonic relatives with whom I do not wish to reconcile EVER, and from whom I will always need to protect myself and my family. They will never get a response from me at all, because there is nothing more to say!
Refusing to allow others to upset you, pressure you, stress you out, intrude at inconvenient times, or disrupt what should be a joyful occasion, is an excellent example of setting boundaries. One of my favorite sayings is “Just because the donkey brays, doesn’t mean you have to answer him!” Someone who has offended you or caused you pain does not deserve for you to interrupt your life and pay attention to him NOW, just because he wants your attention NOW. He can wait. He is not entitled to intrude on your thoughts any time he wants to. YOU are entitled to freedom from being manipulated into stressful circumstances. YOU deserve a nice holiday, without having to deal with difficult people or situations. YOU are entitled NOT to think about him when you don’t want to.
We can often tell a lot about our abuser’s sincerity by observing her reactions when we hesitate. We will recognize the same old controlling patterns re-surfacing if she becomes huffy, gets angry, pretends to be insulted, lays on the guilt, pressures us, or tries to make us defensive. If we see these responses to our uncertainty, then we know that nothing has really changed- and most likely, nothing will ever change. That’s our cue to not walk, but run, in the other direction- because our abuser is showing that she has not learned a thing from our separation about the way she needs to treat us. She still thinks she is completely justified and has every right to make demands on us. The door we allowed to be opened a crack needs to be closed again, and nailed shut!
On the other hand, if she respects our need to take some time and doesn’t pressure us, and if she is willing to put some effort into showing us how she has changed and that she understands she was wrong in what she was doing before, then maybe there’s some hope for a nice future relationship after all. Maybe then a relationship can be forged in which everyone’s needs will be met, and everyone will be treated with respect- and maybe even love! Such a restoration would bless not just one person, but everybody in the family. And that is the hallmark of a truly healthy relationship- one that is good, not just for the abuser, but for everyone else who is involved, too.
***A year after writing this article, I had one of my own unwelcome Pre-Holiday Contacts from my birth-father, who got my unlisted phone number and called me. After not speaking to me for 10 years, within 5 minutes he tried everything from crying and denial, to threats, blackmail, name-calling, and screaming. Two weeks later, his totally psychopathic "Christmas cards" arrived, containing his demonic, strings-attached "presents". To read this whole story, check out the article "Some Things Just Never Change." in our section on Reprobates and Cutting Ties.
BEHOLD, I SEND YOU FORTH AS SHEEP IN THE MIDST OF WOLVES: BE YE THEREFORE WISE AS SERPENTS, AND HARMLESS AS DOVES….Matthew 10:16.
GIVE NOT THAT WHICH IS HOLY UNTO THE DOGS, NEITHER CAST YE YOUR PEARLS BEFORE SWINE, LEST THEY TRAMPLE THEM UNDER THEIR FEET, AND TURN AGAIN AND REND YOU….Matthew 7:6..
AS A DOG RETURNS TO ITS VOMIT, SO A FOOL REPEATS HIS FOLLY….Proverbs 26:11.
CAN THE ETHIOPIAN CHANGE HIS SKIN OR THE LEOPARD ITS SPOTS? NEITHER CAN YOU DO GOOD WHO ARE ACCUSTOMED TO DOING EVIL….Jeremiah 13:23.
BETTER A DRY CRUST WITH PEACE AND QUIET THAN A HOUSE FULL OF FEASTING, WITH STRIFE….Proverbs 17:1.
DO NOT BE YOKED TOGETHER WITH UNBELIEVERS. FOR WHAT DO RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WICKEDNESS HAVE IN COMMON? OR WHAT FELLOWSHIP CAN LIGHT HAVE WITH DARKNESS? WHAT HARMONY IS THERE BETWEEN CHRIST AND BELIAL?.....”THEREFORE COME OUT FROM THEM AND BE SEPARATE”, SAYS THE LORD. “TOUCH NO UNCLEAN THING AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU. I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU AND YOU WILL BE MY SONS AND DAUGHTERS,” SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY…..2 Corinthians 6: 14-15, 17-18.
COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST…..Matthew 11:28.
DO NOT SAY, “WHY WERE THE OLD DAYS BETTER THAN THESE?” FOR IT IS NOT WISE TO ASK SUCH QUESTIONS. WISDOM, LIKE AN INHERITANCE, IS A GOOD THING AND BENEFITS THOSE WHO SEE THE SUN. WISDOM IS A SHELTER AS MONEY IS A SHELTER, BUT THE ADVANTAGE OF KNOWLEDGE IS THIS: THAT WISDOM PRESERVES THE LIFE OF ITS POSSESSOR…..Ecclesiastes 7:10-12.
“I HAVE TOLD YOU THESE THINGS, SO THAT IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE. IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. BUT TAKE HEART! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.”….John 16:33.
FINALLY, BROTHERS, WHATEVER IS TRUE, WHATEVER IS NOBLE, WHATEVER IS RIGHT, WHATEVER IS PURE, WHATEVER IS LOVELY, WHATEVER IS ADMIRABLE- IF ANYTHING IS EXCELLENT OR PRAISEWORTHY- THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS….AND THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH YOU….Philippians 4: 8-9
****For more on this subject, see 'Desperate Measures- When They Sense They're Losing Their Grip On You-5 Surprise Ways Of Keeping You Attached'.
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The Lord specifically called Sister Renee to minister to Adult Children, not their parents, estranged siblings or friends, abusive or abused spouses, or victims of other types of abuse, although what we write here can often be meaningful for those folks as well. Because of this, our ministry and website have a narrow focus which we will not be changing. We simply can't cover everything. In addition, it is not our purpose to help you re-establish contact with someone who felt it was necessary to cut you off for the sake of their own well-being. We do not keep a list of resources for estranged parents or any other type of abuse and suggest if you are sincerely interested in making amends with an estranged relative, you do an internet search for a website or group that will be more relevant to you. If you cannot find a group or site that you can relate to, we suggest you start your own, and bless other people in your position as well as find support for your personal issues.
For Adult Children and others as well, please understand that we cannot give you personal advice concerning your particular family relationships. We are not therapists or lawyers, we usually do not have enough information to form an opinion, and time does not permit us to give enough thought to each person's individual situation to do it justice. If you need personal advice, we urge you to contact the appropriate professional, depending on the problem you have- your minister, therapist, attorney, police department, local domestic violence hotline, etc. In reading this site, you acknowledge that nothing you might read here qualifies as or substitutes for professional advice. Please note we cannot recommend or refer you to a counselor and we do not have a list of therapists or recovery groups in your area. The only Counselor we recommend is the Holy Ghost, and we encourage you to read the Bible and learn for yourself what the Lord says about the issues we write about.
Our articles are strictly our personal opinions and testimonies and are not intended to give or offer any advice. All who access this site do so with the understanding that we are NOT professional counselors and we strongly recommend that you discuss your individual situation with your pastor or therapist and pray for the Lord's guidance before acting on anything we write on this site. Unfortunately, the abuse we discuss is all too common, inflicted on countless victims by countless perpetrators. All names and identifying details in our articles have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty. Any resemblance to a real person or persons whom you might know is strictly coincidental.