Someone recently asked me how can an adult child “honors” an emotionally abusive parent. Sadly, it’s an important question that many face. While there isn’t a blanket answer because each situation is different, there are some general thoughts to think through that apply to nearly every situation.
There is no question that the Bible teaches the importance of honoring our parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2-3). It is not a matter to be taken lightly. To honor our parents, however, does not mean that we should ignore or tolerate their abusive behavior. In fact, ignoring and tolerating abuse would be dishonoring and unloving.
Unfortunately, many adults who have been abused by their parents as children allow emotional abuse to continue for fear of being completely cut-off and abandoned by their parents. It seems that some would rather put up with their parents abuse than to be ignored and abandoned by their parents. To be abandoned by one’s parents seems to be a greater pain and therefore is avoided at all costs, even if that means allowing the abuse to continue.
When a person continues to tolerate emotional abuse from their parents by ignoring it and maybe hoping things will improve, they are neither loving nor honoring their parents. If that person were to honestly examine their motives, they would most likely see that they are not motivated by a desire to love their parents but rather by a desire to keep themselves safe from the deeper pain of being abandoned. And without even knowing it, they are actually contributing to the problem with their silence. Their silence enables rather than stands against further emotional abuse. That’s not what is best for themselves or their parents, therefore it’s not love.
The Bible calls Christians to a love that is without hypocrisy, that is to hate what is evil and cling to what is good, both in ourselves and others (Rom.12:9). In a situation where a parent is emotionally abusive love often asks the question “What is wrong within the person that needs to be disrupted so that good and life can start to emerge?” In almost every instance, this involves drawing strong lines that say “It’s no longer okay for you to abuse me.”
Check out the following video insights by Larry Crabb and Gene Getz on setting boundaries and honoring difficult parents: