You Can Overcome Problems That Damage a Family
1. What hidden problems exist in some families?
THE old car has just been washed and waxed. To passersby it looks shiny, almost new. But underneath the surface, corrosive rust is eating away the body of the vehicle. It is similar with some families. Although to outward appearances everything looks fine, smiling faces hide fear and pain. Behind closed doors corrosive elements are eating away at family peace. Two problems that can have this effect are alcoholism and violence.
THE DAMAGE CAUSED BY ALCOHOLISM
2. (a) What is the Bible’s view of the use of alcoholic beverages? (b) What is alcoholism?
2 The Bible does not condemn the moderate use of alcoholic beverages, but it does condemn drunkenness. (Proverbs 23:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 5:23; Titus 2:2, 3) Alcoholism, though, is more than drunkenness; it is a chronic preoccupation with alcoholic drinks and a loss of control over their consumption. Alcoholics can be adults. Sadly, they can also be youths.
3, 4. Describe the effects of alcoholism on the spouse of the alcoholic and on the children.
3 The Bible long ago indicated that misuse of alcohol can disrupt family peace. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) The corrosive effects of alcoholism are felt by the entire family. The spouse may become absorbed in efforts to stop the alcoholic’s drinking or to cope with his unpredictable behavior.a She tries concealing the liquor, throwing it away, hiding his money, and appealing to his love for family, for life, even for God—but the alcoholic still drinks. As her efforts to control his drinking meet with repeated failure, she feels frustrated and inadequate. She may begin to suffer from fear, anger, guilt, nervousness, anxiety, and lack of self-respect.
4 Children do not escape the effects of a parent’s alcoholism. Some are assaulted physically. Others are molested sexually. They may even blame themselves for a parent’s alcoholism. Frequently their ability to trust others is shattered by the alcoholic’s inconsistent behavior. Because they cannot comfortably talk about what is happening at home, the children may learn to suppress their feelings, often with harmful physical consequences. (Proverbs 17:22) Such children may carry this lack of self-confidence or self-respect right into adulthood.
WHAT CAN THE FAMILY DO?
5. How can alcoholism be managed, and why is this difficult?
5 Although many authorities say that alcoholism cannot be cured, most agree that a measure of recovery is possible with a program of total abstinence. (Compare Matthew 5:29.) However, getting an alcoholic to accept help is easier said than done, since he usually denies that he has a problem. Nevertheless, when family members take steps to deal with the way the alcoholism has affected them, the alcoholic may begin to realize that he has a problem. A physician with experience in helping alcoholics and their families said: “I think the most important thing is for the family simply to go about their business of living in the healthiest way they can. The alcoholic more and more gets confronted with how big the contrast is between him and the rest of the family.”
6. What is the best source of counsel for families with an alcoholic member?
6 If there is an alcoholic in your family, the Bible’s inspired counsel can assist you in living in the healthiest way possible. (Isaiah 48:17; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17) Consider some principles that have helped families to deal successfully with alcoholism.
7. If a family member is an alcoholic, who is responsible?
7 Stop taking all the blame. The Bible says: “Each one will carry his own load,” and, “each of us will render an account for himself to God.” (Galatians 6:5; Romans 14:12) The alcoholic may try to suggest that family members are responsible. For example, he may say: “If you treated me better, I wouldn’t drink.” If others appear to agree with him, they are encouraging him to continue drinking. But even if we are victimized by circumstances or by other people, all of us—including alcoholics—are responsible for what we do.—Compare Philippians 2:12.
8. What are some ways that the alcoholic may be helped to face the consequences of his problem?
8 Do not feel that you must always shield the alcoholic from the consequences of his drinking. A Bible proverb about someone in a rage could apply equally to the alcoholic: “If you would deliver him, you will also keep doing it again and again.” (Proverbs 19:19) Let the alcoholic feel the effects of his drinking. Let him clean up after himself or call his employer the morning after a drinking episode.
9, 10. Why should the families of alcoholics accept help, and whose help in particular should they seek?
9 Accept help from others. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” When there is an alcoholic in your family, there is distress. You need help. Do not hesitate to rely on ‘true companions’ for support. (Proverbs 18:24) Talking with others who understand the problem or who have faced a similar situation may provide you with practical suggestions on what to do and what not to do. But be balanced. Speak with those you trust, those who will protect your “confidential talk.”—Proverbs 11:13.
10 Learn to trust Christian elders. The elders in the Christian congregation can be a great source of help. These mature men are educated in God’s Word and experienced in the application of its principles. They can prove to be “like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.” (Isaiah 32:2) Not only do Christian elders protect the congregation as a whole from harmful influences but they also comfort, refresh, and take a personal interest in individuals who have problems. Take full advantage of their help.
11, 12. Who provides the greatest help for families of alcoholics, and how is that support given?
11 Above all, draw strength from Jehovah. The Bible warmly assures us: “Jehovah is near to those that are broken at heart; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” (Psalm 34:18) If you feel broken at heart or crushed in spirit because of the pressures of living with an alcoholic family member, know that “Jehovah is near.” He understands how difficult your family situation is.—1 Peter 5:6, 7.
12 Believing what Jehovah says in his Word can help you to cope with anxiety. (Psalm 130:3, 4; Matthew 6:25-34; 1 John 3:19, 20) Studying God’s Word and living by its principles puts you in line to receive the help of God’s holy spirit, which can equip you with “power beyond what is normal” to cope from one day to the next.—2 Corinthians 4:7.b
13. What is a second problem that damages many families?
13 Abuse of alcohol can lead to another problem that damages many families—domestic violence.
DAMAGE CAUSED BY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
14. When did domestic violence begin, and what is the situation today?
14 The first violent act in human history was an incident of domestic violence involving two brothers, Cain and Abel. (Genesis 4:8) Ever since then, mankind has been plagued with all manner of domestic violence. There are husbands who batter wives, wives who attack husbands, parents who cruelly beat their young children, and grown children who abuse their elderly parents.
15. How are family members affected emotionally by domestic violence?
15 The damage caused by domestic violence goes far beyond the physical scars. One battered wife said: “There is a lot of guilt and shame you have to deal with. Most mornings, you just want to stay in bed, hoping it was just a bad dream.” Children who observe or experience domestic violence may themselves be violent when they grow up and have families of their own.
16, 17. What is emotional abuse, and how are family members affected by it?
16 Domestic violence is not limited to physical abuse. Often the assault is verbal. Proverbs 12:18 says: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” These “stabs” that characterize domestic violence include name-calling and shouting, as well as constant criticism, degrading insults, and threats of physical violence. The wounds of emotional violence are invisible and often go unnoticed by others.
17 Especially sad is the emotional battering of a child—the constant criticizing and belittling of a child’s abilities, intelligence, or value as a person. Such verbal abuse can destroy the spirit of a child. True, all children need discipline. But the Bible instructs fathers: “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Colossians 3:21.
HOW TO AVOID DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
18. Where does domestic violence begin, and what does the Bible show is the way to stop it?
18 Domestic violence begins in the heart and mind; the way we act begins with how we think. (James 1:14, 15) To stop the violence, the abuser needs to transform his way of thinking. (Romans 12:2) Is that possible? Yes. God’s Word has the power to change people. It can uproot even “strongly entrenched” destructive views. (2 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 4:12) Accurate knowledge of the Bible can help produce so complete a change in people that they are said to put on a new personality.—Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:8-10.
19. How should a Christian view and treat a marriage mate?
19 View of marriage mate. God’s Word says: “Husbands ought to be loving their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:28) The Bible also says that a husband should assign his wife “honor as to a weaker vessel.” (1 Peter 3:7) Wives are admonished “to love their husbands” and to have “deep respect” for them. (Titus 2:4; Ephesians 5:33) Surely no God-fearing husband can truthfully argue that he really honors his wife if he assaults her physically or verbally. And no wife who screams at her husband, addresses him sarcastically, or constantly scolds him can say that she truly loves and respects him.
20. Before whom are parents responsible for their children, and why should parents not have unrealistic expectations of their children?
20 Proper view of children. Children deserve, yes, need, love and attention from their parents. God’s Word calls children “an inheritance from Jehovah” and “a reward.” (Psalm 127:3) Parents are responsible before Jehovah to care for that inheritance. The Bible speaks of “the traits of a babe” and the “foolishness” of boyhood. (1 Corinthians 13:11; Proverbs 22:15) Parents should not be surprised if they encounter foolishness in their children. Youngsters are not adults. Parents should not demand more than is appropriate for a child’s age, family background, and ability.—See Genesis 33:12-14.
21. What is the godly way of viewing elderly parents and of dealing with them?
21 View of elderly parents. Leviticus 19:32 says: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man.” God’s Law thus fostered respect and a high regard for the elderly. This may be a challenge when an elderly parent seems overly demanding or is ill and perhaps does not move or think quickly. Still, children are reminded to “keep paying a due compensation to their parents.” (1 Timothy 5:4) This would mean treating them with dignity and respect, perhaps even providing for them financially. Mistreating elderly parents physically or otherwise absolutely contradicts the way the Bible tells us to act.
22. What is a key quality in overcoming domestic violence, and how can it be exercised?
22 Cultivate self-control. Proverbs 29:11 says: “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.” How can you control your spirit? Instead of letting frustration build up inside, act quickly to settle difficulties that arise. (Ephesians 4:26, 27) Leave the scene if you feel yourself losing control. Pray for God’s holy spirit to produce self-control in you. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Going for a walk or engaging in some physical exercise may help you to control your emotions. (Proverbs 17:14, 27) Endeavor to be “slow to anger.”—Proverbs 14:29.
TO SEPARATE OR REMAIN TOGETHER?
23. What may happen if a member of the Christian congregation repeatedly and unrepentantly gives in to violent fits of anger, perhaps including physical abuse of his family?
23 The Bible places among the works condemned by God “enmities, strife, . . . fits of anger” and states that “those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Therefore, anyone claiming to be a Christian who repeatedly and unrepentantly gives in to violent fits of anger, perhaps including physical abuse of spouse or children, can be disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation. (Compare 2 John 9, 10.) In this way the congregation is kept clean of abusive persons.—1 Corinthians 5:6, 7; Galatians 5:9.
24. (a) How may abused spouses choose to act? (b) How may concerned friends and elders support an abused spouse, but what should they not do?
24 What about Christians who are currently being battered by an abusive spouse who shows no sign of changing? Some have chosen to stay with the abusive spouse for one reason or another. Others have chosen to leave, feeling that their physical, mental, and spiritual health—perhaps even their life—is in danger. What a victim of domestic violence chooses to do in these circumstances is a personal decision before Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11) Well-meaning friends, relatives, or Christian elders may wish to offer help and counsel, but they should not put pressure on a victim to take any particular course of action. That is his or her own decision to make.—Romans 14:4; Galatians 6:5.
AN END TO DAMAGING PROBLEMS
25. What is Jehovah’s purpose for the family?
25 When Jehovah brought Adam and Eve together in marriage, he never purposed that families should be corroded by damaging problems such as alcoholism or violence. (Ephesians 3:14, 15) The family was to be a place where love and peace would flourish and each member would have his mental, emotional, and spiritual needs cared for. With the introduction of sin, however, family life quickly deteriorated.—Compare Ecclesiastes 8:9.
26. What future awaits those who try to live in harmony with Jehovah’s requirements?
26 Happily, Jehovah has not abandoned his purpose for the family. He promises to usher in a peaceful new world in which people “will actually dwell in security, with no one to make them tremble.” (Ezekiel 34:28) At that time, alcoholism, domestic violence, and all the other problems that damage families today will be things of the past. People will smile, not to hide fear and pain, but because they are finding “exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Psalm 37:11.
a Although we refer to the alcoholic as a male, the principles herein apply equally when the alcoholic is a female.
b In some lands, there are treatment centers, hospitals, and recovery programs that specialize in helping alcoholics and their families. Whether to seek such help or not is a personal decision. The Watch Tower Society does not endorse any particular treatment. However, care must be exercised so that, in seeking help, one does not become involved in activities that compromise Scriptural principles.