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Agape Christian Counselling, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

 (416) 234-1850


George Hartwell M.Sc.


Can Families be Evil?
 Understanding how christian, good Families can end up bad and the source of evil.

© George Hartwell M.Sc. (all rights reserved) 2007

Contents Include:
Good mom, Bad dad.

One's family system can be an obstacle to healing. Like all homeostatic systems, the family system resists change. So emotional growth and identity transformation is limited because living in a family system means that a network of relationships exercises control over how you experience and define your  identity.

However, there is good news. If one's therapy is successful and the changes are sustained then  one's new healthy identity will bring changes the family sytem. This is because you will develop new relationship patterns and you will not sustain unhealthy relationship patterns. Now because the family system exercises control over how the others experience and define their identity others will be encouraged to change their identity and relationship patterns in  positive ways. So one person's therapy can benefit others in the system.

In my family of origin and in the culture of Toronto , Canada , there is a big life pattern of looking good, avoiding being real and denying my own faults.  This pattern is often reinforced when one gets serious about committing one’s life to God and joins another dysfunctional family – the church.

What I mean by denial of our faults is failing to admit my mistakes, or take personal responsibility for a problem.  The attitude is; “There is nothing wrong with me.”

What happens to the heart of the person living in this culture?  Often I am unaware of how my mind deals with this culture of looking good.  I might start pretending that there is nothing wrong with me.  Soon I live and act on the belief that there is nothing wrong with me.  This pretense becomes hidden from view.  I am now living with my faults (or my family’s faults) out of conscious awareness.

I understand some of the powerful reasons why we keep ourselves unaware of faults, weaknesses, imperfections and our ways of being mean and nasty.  One powerful dynamic is that there is an opposite set of beliefs in our heart that we don’t want to face because of the pain they bring with them.  Let me explain briefly.

I have discovered that there are two different sets of beliefs behind the pattern of looking good.  On one level we look good so that we can please people and maintain love and approval.  This is driven by the belief that ‘If I please people and do good then I will be loved and receive approval.’  I believe that this is effective in avoiding abandonment, rejection and ‘parental’ disapproval.

On the other hand, there are deep and painful beliefs that I do not want to go near.  Thinking of them brings me painful feelings of depression, fear and rage.  These beliefs go like this: “There is something wrong with me.” “No one will ever love me.”  “I am bad.”  “I don’t deserve good things in my life.”  “I will never be loved. (There is no point in trying.)”  “I may as well give up, scream like crazy or beat up on somebody.”  “I feel alone and abandoned.”

Do you feel what pain these beliefs cause?  One does not want to go there.  Avoid.  Do not enter.  Remain unconscious.

We don’t have to be Jungian scholars to see that keeping this mess hidden in our heart could cause problems.  Maybe this is what Carl Jung meant by the Shadow part of our personality.  This part of our personality – these beliefs and feelings – that we insist on keeping unconscious, do find expression in our lives.  We express them in our deep depressions.  We may become quite ‘expressive’ in defensiveness or anger when a problem happens or someone criticizes us or our family.

Scott Peck, in People of the Lie, goes much farther.  Peck describes how much evil is created by this ‘Shadow.’

It brings “Scapegoating.”

For Peck, the ‘People of the Lie’ are the closest he has come to feeling and discerning evil.  These people who admit no wrong in themselves, who see no need for healing, who admit no evil, begin to see evil in their environment.  They find “scapegoats.”  They support more prisons to capture and imprison the evil that they project.  They support military governments who will fight their countries evil enemies.  They would provide impetus to any campaign to get rid of a people (genocide) – a people who now carry the sin and evil from within that is projected outward on others.

The Enemy is us!

This enemy is in us.  The enemy is us.  We who admit to no evil in us.  We who fail to identify our own misbeliefs.  We are the ones blaming others and not able to take personal responsibility.  We become negative thinkers, abusive people, self-deceivers, and experts at ‘looking good.’


Yes, these are the dynamics of paranoia (a condition that responds poorly to therapy).  We become paranoid because we have become afraid of our environment.  Paranoid because we sense danger ‘out there’ - when it is the enemy within that is haunting us.  Paranoia can develop as we use the defense mechanism of projection.  We become paranoid movie projectors seeing ‘the evil one we are’ (our underlying beliefs) projected onto our environment.

Good mom, Bad dad

In the family system, we always divide members in the good ones and the bad ones.  Children are lead to see one parent as the ‘good one’ and the other as the ‘bad one.’  Parents see one child as the ‘good one’ and one as the ‘bad one.’  Siblings react to one as the ‘bad one’ and one as the ‘good one.’

In my family of origin, we were convinced, by mom, that dad was the “bad” one – “Good Mom, Bad Dad.”  In reality Mom was the driving force behind the above system of pretending we were good.  Mom lead the charge in suppressing being real, open and intimate with one another.  Mom taught us to ignore our feelings.  Mom taught me to be her “Good Boy.”  Her ‘love’ was always conditional on myself and my siblings following her rules (spoken and unspoken).

So, what happens when you follow rules against being angry, speaking up, expressing emotions, feeling pain, and seeking too much comfort?  I, the child:

1.      Lose the ability to be human and personal,

2.      Therefore, I have difficulty entering and maintaining close relationships.

3.      I lose the ability to be angry – to mobilize the energy to confront injustice, deception, obstacles to my goals, enemies,

4.      Therefore, I end up passive, finding it difficult to achieve my goals, to move forward aggressively in life, in sales, in sports, in relationships, to initiate.

5.      I lose the ability to think for myself, (I become focused on getting the ‘right’ answer) and,

6.      Therefore, I lose creativity, and the ability to think for myself.

7.      I develop a ‘false’ or ‘’pseudo’ personality,

8.      Therefore, I am confused about my real identity.

9.      Because I am uncertain about my identity and not able to think for myself, it becomes difficult to make up my mind or to make a decision,

10.  Therefore, I procrastinate, am slow to write reports and am indecisive in relationships,

11.  Which added stress to my work life and crippled my ability to get my work done.

12.  And I develop the pattern of not facing my faults and taking personal responsibility for my mistakes, seeing enemies in my environment and imposing my perception of “Good Mom, Bad Dad” on the world.

The fact that I am writing this indicates that this is not always permanent.  One can change.  Healing can happen.  Lives can be transformed.  Some of these patterns in my life have lessened, changed and, in some cases, been radically transformed.

Like Jacob the twister, con man, deceiver, I am left with wounds even after gaining a blessing from wrestling with angels.  I have learned to go boldly to the throne of grace.  I have seen my life patterns dramatically healed – only to discover that there are still traces of the old patterns.  Like Jesus with his scars, like Jacob with his hip out of joint, I can testify to a life transforming encounter with Yahweh’s messenger and to some ongoing wounds that still cripple my life in various ways.

  Thus I am one of the wounded healers (Nouwen).  Jesus is The Healer.  Our trust is in God (not man.)

My family, that looked so perfect, was in reality deeply wounded.  We all believed Dad was the enemy – “the Bad Dad.”  The healthy aspects of dad is that there was no pretending in him.  He expressed his anger openly.  He disciplined physically.  He expressed his opinions openly and directly.  Yes he was an angry man.  Yes, he was ‘politically incorrect,’ but he was real.  Because he was real, my inner child understood and forgave him.  Healing of this relationship can happen, if not in childhood, at least as soon as I face and forgive him.

Mother, we believed, was the “Good Mom.”  She used psychology on us.  She shaped us into what she wanted, indirectly.  She made approval and love conditional.  She established the emotional rules for the family: “peace at any price’ and “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” She was very subtle but forceful in overruling clear, open direct expression of needs, pain, feelings, and personal information.  She openly overruling all fighting and abuse among the six children, but in doing so, she also prevented us from being real, understanding anger, exploring and expressing different views and identities.  She blocked intimacy, and, therefore, love from being explored, experienced and felt in our family.

Because Mother was a master at indirect and subtle parenting, she was not seen be us children as “Bad Mom.”  She established herself, in our minds and hearts, as “Good Mom.”  She was ‘off the radar screen.’  She went undetected.  We projected all our feelings of not being loved or loveable on dad.  The shadow of abandonment, rejection, depression, fear, and rage was directed at “Bad Dad.”

This means that we cannot easily get over the damage mom did.  If depressed, we will not know why.  We have not understood my family’s tendency to paranoia.  We may still look for good guys and bad guys.  How can we forgive and move on when we don’t know that the “Good Mom” was ugly and unhealthy for her children?


For information on the Ralph Rutledge scandal talk to me or Lorne Shepherd.