A quiet domineering father (Lisa’s story)

I had a father who was very domineering in a quiet, controlled sort of way. He never hit us and very rarely yelled, but he would sit us down for lectures for hours during which we weren’t allowed to speak, cry, or move a muscle. I learned early on how to turn myself off and wait it out because there wasn’t any chance of changing anything.

A lot of times he would have it wrong, or what he thought happened really didn’t, but it didn’t matter; we could never defend or explain, only sit and listen. It was also well known that you never disagreed with him about anything—even a simple opinion. If he thought someone was mean, you darn well better agree, because if you said you didn’t know they were that bad, you were in trouble.

My father was often quiet, but a stern look or gesture from him conveyed so much danger to me. I was always afraid of setting him off — even though he never hit us or anything like that. It seems difficult to understand how someone can rule with fear without actually doing anything. But I lived in fear of him.

My mother always deferred to his way. She never had her own opinion about anything—she’d learned not to. Dad’s word was absolute law. And I pretty much always felt on the wrong side of the law, even though I was the “good child.”

I was the oldest, so I took the role of doing whatever I can to make Dad happy. I had to be hyper-vigilant. I would carefully examine his body language, the feeling in the room—everything—and choose my every word and gesture and facial tic so that Dad would like what I said. If I used the wrong word, I’d hear about it for the next several hours. I got good at reading him. I knew the topics that he liked to discuss, and what tone of voice to use and everything. It became a survival mechanism for life in my home.

My sister went with a different approach. She gave up. She rebelled and did everything consciously opposite to what was expected (I guess she partly did this because I’d already claimed the “good girl” role of the family). She is still doing this well into her adult life and has no idea why.

The problem for me came in that I had no idea at the time that this wasn’t normal. I thought that what I experienced was in the scope of normal family relations, and never once thought of it as dysfunctional. So that made it harder for me to fix. My sister now has this problem because she doesn’t remember it as damaging.

After I got married and we had a disagreement, I’d immediately shut down and tried to “wait it out” like I always did with Dad. It was a physical thing. I could not make myself talk to my husband and sort out a disagreement in a calm way. In my experience, you didn’t disagree; you kept it inside and waited until it was over.

For the first year of marriage, our disagreements were over small things, but they became long, drawn-out affairs in which my husband tried for hours to get me to talk.


Lisa is a great example of someone who applied the truths in my book. FOR THE REST OF HER STORY, (AND THERE’S MUCH MORE) GET A COPY OF MY BOOK ON AMAZON HERE


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Audio series – The Master Teacher

Journey with me to learn from the Master Teacher in this 11 part audio series!


Sermon-Title-master-teacherHere is free access to one of the most personally challenging series of messages I’ve presented. 

  • Jesus moved from the visible and known to the unseen and eternal.
  • He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.
  • The people of his time became blinded to the connections between earth and heaven. Jesus connected the visible world with truth about God and His Kingdom.

Journey with me to learn from the Master Teacher in this 11 part audio series

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5 purposes of pain (C. S. Lewis)

How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the existence of pain and suffering? What possible purpose can pain have?


“There are few things more common to the human experience than pain and suffering. Yet despite (or perhaps because of) their universality, there are also few things that seem more incompatible with the human experience. This is why a period of suffering, and especially a prolonged one, causes us to ask God why – to question the purpose behind our pain.”

“C.S. Lewis, the famed atheist-turned-apologist, was himself intimately acquainted with suffering – essentially orphaned at the age of 9 when his mother died and his father shipped him off to a strict boarding school, physically and mentally wounded while serving in the trenches in World War I, and tragically widowed when he finally married following a long bachelorhood. Unsurprisingly, considering his experience, his literary works are filled with references to, meditations on, and explanations of the problem of pain. How do we reconcile an omnipotent, benevolent God with the…

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Hurt by a distant father (Julie’s story)

41riFO7MGmL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Julie learned from her father that love had to be earned. Good behavior merited her father’s favor, whereas disobedience to his standards and beliefs drew his anger and distance. It was all about performance. She received approval from her dad if she displayed to others what he thought to be right and proper behavior. As long as she pretended to be the obedient and respectful child, she was accepted.
Julie grew up not really knowing her father’s love but trying desperately to gain it. He was absent emotionally and, as a grown woman, Julie does not know him, though she still clearly hears his disapproval.
As Julie grew up, she made more choices that displeased her dad. According to him, she did not eat, dress, or date appropriately. Rather than gaining what her heart desired, she was farther away from the hope of ever being loved for who she was. As a result, she turned to other male relationships to find affirmation and acceptance. During this phase of her life, the connection with her father severed completely.
Julie became a people-pleasing, empty, broken mess. All her male relationships only further splintered her soul. When she could not bear the self-deception any longer, she enrolled in a Bible College as a final effort to ease the overwhelming pain in her heart. Perhaps total abandonment to God would release her from consuming turmoil and grant her the acceptance from her father. If she embraced God, she thought that perhaps the emptiness of her heart would fade away.
During her time at college, Julie began to see layers of deception to her troubled mind and determined to be honest about herself and to seek God’s plan for her life. When she finally stopped running, she met a stable guy and married him, believing her past could now become a distant memory.
Distant, but not forgotten…
For the next seventeen years of marriage, Julie was baffled by unexplainable outbursts of anger and an almost continual feeling of discontentment — even though she was married to a loving, supportive husband and had four beautiful children. What could be missing?
Unable to pinpoint the cause of her unrest, she finally broke. Julie hit a wall and admitted failure—personal, marital, parental, social and to her dismay, even spiritual. Attacked on all fronts, everything she tried so hard to keep in balance came simultaneously crashing down. Depression consumed her for the next three years.
More from Julie’s story in my book: “The 18-Year factor: How Our Upbringing Affects Our Lives and Relationships” Purchase here 
Steve Cornell
Posted in 18 Year factor, Abuse, Child Abuse, Dysfunctional, Family life, Fathers, Parenting, Wisdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Unsafe protective mechanisms

treat-thumb“Adults who survived toxic upbringings give extended life to the damage caused by them when they cling to protective mechanisms. They sabotage their relationships in seemingly irrational and confusing ways. I’ve witnessed far too many examples of a painful past becoming the thief of future intimacy.”

“Thriving marriages require levels of vulnerability, transparency, and trust that feel inaccessible to those who shielded themselves from adults for many years. They prefer the safety of protectively circling the wagons to reduce the risk of more hurt—even though it hurts those who would never hurt them.”

(From Chapter 8 – “Unsafe protective mechanisms” in “The 18-Year factor: How Our Upbringing Affects Our Lives and Relationships” Purchase here)

Steve Cornell

Posted in 18 Year factor, Child Abuse, Divorce and Remarriage, Guidelines for marriage decision, Marriage, marriage problems, troubled marriage, Wisdom | Leave a comment

A life trapped in violence

a931d-tears4Jill (not her actual name) who has a successful career, tells her story of growing up in a violent home.
“I grew up in a home where conflict, rage, and abuse were everyday occurrences. I never understood why this was happening to me, but I knew something was wrong with our home. I heard other children talk, and it appeared that they had ordinary families.
I longed for love and attention, but I kept my feelings bottled up because I didn’t know where to put them. Much of my childhood was spent crying, and I was often fearful that my mother would kill me. My mother once told me that she wished she had gotten rid of my siblings and me when she had the chance. My heart would break every time she said something like that.
I lived in this trap of violence for seventeen years until I finally fled. I turned to male companionship and became involved in sexual relationships in the hope that I would find someone who would love and care for me. I did not even care if drugs were involved as long as we were having fun and I could cling to the hope of a lasting relationship that was free from violence.
Eventually, I found myself married to a man who was extremely controlling and had a violent temper. I was back in a terrorizing situation. It didn’t take long for me to run from that situation. I was in the habit of running
from situations that I could not control. But leaving my marriage only brought another devastating blow to my self-esteem. I did not know how to handle pressure of any kind until I was well into my forties. I often wondered what my life would have been like if I had grown up in a “normal” home. What else could I have accomplished if my confidence in my abilities had not been challenged at such a young age and to such a degree?
I will never know. All I can do is understand that when I was young, instead of being nurtured in times when normally a lesson could have been learned, I was beaten and subjected to words of hatred. This created emotions and feelings that I was unable to understand. I went out into a big world unprepared for the realities that exist in everyday living. Like so many others, I escaped into the world of gambling, drugs, and alcohol –still trying to run from the terrors of abuse I experienced as a young child.
It was when I realized that what happened to me as a child was not my fault that my life began to change. When I realized that I am a loveable person, my life began to take on new meaning. I was finally able to forgive my mother for the atrocities she inflicted upon me as a child.”
Jill was attached to her past under buried feelings and fears, with self-blame being the most potent. As mentioned earlier, children tend to misread what happens to them as an indication of something wrong with them. Imagine a little girl thinking that she deserved or caused her parent’s abusive anger and violence. This way of thinking is a common attachment to a painful past.
It helps to know that what you experienced as a child was not your fault. Carrying the fears that you felt as a child is bondage. These buried feelings and fears can only be uncovered and resolved by looking back and facing them. My book offers many stories like Jill’s story and is written to help people uncover and resolve the pain of the past. It’s also a kind of training manual for those who are trying to help others overcome the past.
Available on AMAZON here
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A dark secret (sexual abuse)

254708_10150715404215012_747615011_19691753_656898_nMy first encounter with a victim of sexual abuse was Sue (not her actual name). I was immediately impressed with her. She always seemed eager to learn, cheerful and friendly—a delight to have around. Everything about her made me think she must have had a healthy 18-year factor. Yet this outgoing university freshman carried a dark secret.
As time passed, Sue could no longer maintain the happy demeanor she wanted others to see. She began to turn to excessive behaviors of exercise, dieting, and sleeping. Battling feelings of depression and despair, she tried desperately to gain control of her life while feeling helplessly out of control. The past slowly began to devour the present.
What could have caused such a sudden and extreme change? There was a story behind her story, and it wasn’t good. At the advice of a caring friend, she nervously called to request a meeting with me. In an act of tremendous courage, Sue allowed me to be the first person to hear the dark secret she had been carrying. During one dreadful visit to her grandparents’ home when Sue was only twelve years old, her grandfather entered her room and sexually molested her.
Suffering silently, Sue tried to hide and suppress this unimaginable betrayal of trust and violation of her life. She finally reached a breaking point and could no longer sustain the self that she wanted to be. The past devoured the present, and her life began to fall apart.
Just get over it?
Imagine what it does to a little girl’s sense of identity and security when her grandfather sexually violates her. How would Sue feel if someone told her to “just get over it” or “forgive him and move on”? How is she supposed to do this? Careless advice like this is both unrealistic and hurtful to the victims of deep betrayal and abuse. Naive counsel only makes victims feel more like a failure.
Without loving intervention from a caring friend and guidance from a counselor, Sue would continue her struggle with crippling and destructive emotions that would lead to a broken trail of damaged relationships.
Gaining freedom to move forward into a healthier future always requires confrontation of the perpetrator. If this cannot happen face to face or if it’s unwise to confront the abuser in person, a letter or a form of role-playing are both adequate means of confrontation.
Confronting a perpetrator gives a victim the opportunity to regain a sense of control. It provides an outlet for verbally articulating raw emotions and pain in a way that places responsibility on the perpetrator. Though we cannot go back and change what happened, we can change ourselves. Likewise, the only thing we can change about the past is how we allow it to affect us in our future.
Sue did write a letter to her grandfather. He was on his deathbed at the time (which was shockingly used by a relative to inflict a sense of guilt on her). Her grandfather did write back, and his letter…
(for the rest of her story and more insights related to sexual abuse, see chapter 6 of my book, “The 18-Year Factor: How our upringing affects our lives and relationships”)
Available on Amazon here 
Steve Cornell
Posted in Abuse, Child Abuse, Dysfunctional, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Assault, Sexuality, Wisdom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment