The soul cannot forgive until it
is restored to wholeness and health.
In the absence of love - how can one forgive?

With an abundance of love, starting with one's self,
forgiveness becomes a viable opportunity.
-Nancy Richards

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dealing with Dissociation

A fellow survivor recently asked me how I dealt with my dissociation. I thought I would share my answer here. Of course, this is just an outline for a very complicated process:

It took a number of years for me to get a handle on my dissociation. The first step was to simply become aware that I dissociated.

Because I had dissociated since I was a child, the emotional disconnect felt so normal to me that I didn't even know that I experienced "altered states" until a therapist pointed it out to me.

After my counselor helped me identify times when I dissociated, I learned that it had a certain recognizable "quality," just like a dream has a familiar feel to it.

The clinical definition of dissociation is a disturbance or alteration in the normally integrative functions of identity, memory, or consciousness. In children, this may occur following physical abuse or trauma.

Most abuse survivors I have talked to have said that they have trouble "feeling," or that they have become "numb." Dissociation can manifest itself to many different degrees and in many different fashions; therefore, it can simply mean an inability to "feel." For me, when the pain became "too much," I became "trance like." My gaze became transfixed to one unknown spot and I disconnected from my feelings and surroundings. I could hear what was going on around me, but I couldn't "respond" to words, noises, or actions, because my emotional self "disappeared."

When I was a child, dissociation "saved my life." It was my survival tactic. If I had to feel that which was unbearable and unending, I would have most likely gone insane. Dissociation protected my sanity at a time when I had no one to help me.

Long after I grew up, I learned that the very mechanism that saved me as a child, harmed me as an adult. I couldn't protect myself when I was young, but I could and should as an adult.

I often stayed in "harmful" situations because I unknowingly dissociated rather than reacting to pain and safe-guarding my own well-being. If we listen closely, pain is a useful resource for protecting ourselves.

Once I realized that I did indeed dissociate, that the "emotional absences" were harmful to me, and that they prevented me from healing, I made a concerted effort to "re-wire" my responses. This of course takes a great deal of time.

Whenever I felt the "quality" that comes with dissociation, I began to "pull" myself out. I shifted my eyes away from that far off "blank stare," and forced myself to remain present with my surroundings. If I was with someone safe, that meant saying, "I'm struggling with keeping myself present and not dissociating."

If I was not with someone safe, that meant leaving or re-directing myself by whatever means necessary to "stay present." I'd also like to note that my symptoms of dissociation and PTSD often overlapped as I was trying to deal with my childhood abuse.

Learning to recognize and prevent these "trances" consistently took a very long time. In this way, I learned to redirected myself from dissociating, and stay present with what was happening, but I didn't yet learn to "hold" my own feelings.

It took a great deal of therapy to create an environment safe enough to "hold" my feelings and to resolve them with self-compassion and love. At first, I was so out of my comfort zone, I felt like I was feeling my away around in the dark. I kept asking my therapist, "Is it normal to feel this way?" I had no frame of reference.

Just like with any healing, we don't just turn on a switch and suddenly "feel" everything. It would be too much. Our psyche can only take on so much pain at once and our minds guide us through the process in baby steps as we are ready to take on more feelings. (See "What? I Can Feel This?")

Sometimes, it felt like I would never get to the other side, but I did, and it feels more rewarding than I ever thought possible.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

To all those contending with the turmoil surrounding an abusive family of origin and to those dealing with the pain of family estrangement, my thoughts and prayers are with you all this holiday season.

Warmest Wishes,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves and for Others - Part Four

I've been writing about topics of abuse, premature forgiveness, estrangement, and reconciliation repetitively and with great regularity for more than a decade and a half. In doing so, my thoughts on these subjects have remained central to my life, and have constantly evolved. I have shared this evolution in my books, articles, private message boards, e-mails, letters, and on this blog.

During the years that my abuse and estrangement recovery were a part of my daily life, I had much to write about. I have enjoyed the opportunity to provide survivors a glimmer of hope. Now that abuse and estrangement are more of a distant memory than a present reality, I find that I'm running out of things to say. I no longer have the regular "triggers" that provide new aspects to write about. As a survivor, that is good news!

I admire the many bloggers who share their recovery as it happens; when they are still raw and reeling with authentic emotions. They offer a glimpse into the process as it happens. Mine are reflections on how it was then. Over the past year, I have searched my mind to recall the different aspects of my recovery that were particularly difficult and to write a post on how I dealt with my struggle to overcome my pain.

I've been wrestling for the last few months with what it means at this point in my life to be a survivor. I feel tugged in two directions; a kinship and a desire to help those on the journey for which I have much empathy, along with a desire to find a balance and reap the rewards of my own healing.

Writing takes a great deal of emotional energy; however, my energy is often restored when someone writes to me to let me know that my energy is well spent.

I will continue to post, although with less regularity. Please feel free to peruse my older posts. I have much information here about my recovery from abuse and estrangement. When I think of something I would like to say, I will write about it.

Also, if anyone is struggling with something and would like my thoughts, I would be happy to share how I handled a similar situation, if I can.

You can post a comment or question here, or e-mail me through the e-mail address on my profile page.

Writing is and has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. It is an honor to be a part of a community of survivors!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves, and for Others - Part Three

Twelve years after I began writing the first draft of my manuscript (Mother, I don't Forgive You), Heal and Forgive went to publication. By this time, I knew a number of other abuse survivors and I felt largely healed from my trauma. Yet, the pain of family estrangement continued to rear its heartbreaking head. Although the subject of abuse is no longer taboo in our society, family estrangement is still a topic hidden in shame.

I joined a number of online estrangement support groups, and found solace that I was not alone in this experience. In sharing our circumstances, receiving validation, and offering support to others, once again, I found greater clarity about my healing and recovery from family estrangement. I posted to these groups and wrote in private correspondence almost daily for nearly three years.

The cycle of writing/healing, and healing/writing, aided me again when, after fourteen years of estrangement, my brother contacted me and we all began the process of family reconciliation. I am positive that I would not have been healed enough to explore the possibility of reuniting with my family without the support of my fellow estrangees, the sharing of experiences, and the opportunity to heal through the written word.

Emotionally, writing Heal and Forgive II took a lot out of me, but I wrote with the hope that I could help others; return the support that has been given to me; offer a blueprint for the possibility of healing from family violence, and perhaps even that which I always thought was impossible - forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Sharing my story has felt very vulnerable. Although writing has undoubtedly been healing for me, the real reward has been in having the opportunity to turn my negative experiences into a positive by advocating for other survivors. The feedback I receive "fills my tank." Offering hope, empathy, and validation to others is not only helpful to them, but soothes me as well, as we connect in our mutual humanity.....

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves and for Others - Part Two

As my healing journey progressed, I soaked up information like a sponge; received a great deal of validation from others; expressed my anger; mourned my losses, and then, a confusing thing happened; I started to feel a glimmer of forgiveness. "No! I resisted, "That can't be!"

After militantly standing in the healing freedom of non-forgiveness for four years, this did not seem like a good thing. I didn't want to give up my safety. In my confusion, I abandoned my quest for publication.

Another four years passed before a friend asked me what happened to my manuscript. I told him that I had abandoned it because I was in a different emotional place. He said, "Why don't you continue anyway? I'm sure there are many people who are in the place you were and would benefit from your sharing the growth you experienced during your period of non-forgiveness. "

His words haunted me for months before I began to write again. I was in a quandary. How could I write a book titled Mother, I Don't Forgive You, if I was beginning to forgive? I didn't want to be disingenuous or to be one of those annoying people waving the forgiveness flag. I understood the pain of premature forgiveness all too well.

I felt deeply compelled to share with other survivors in order to spare them the delayed healing that I had suffered during all my wrong turns, detours and dead ends. Somehow, I wanted to write in a fashion that truly honored the experience when it was important NOT to forgive and still honor the place my journey was taking me. In other words, the entire process.

Of course, once again, writing helped me heal, and gave me greater clarity about my entire healing and forgiveness journey. This clarity helped me express myself in an authentic fashion.......

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves and for Others - Part One

Writing has been an important part of my recovery. Both in terms of clarifying my own experiences and in validating the process for others.

I was born in 1957, in an era unlike today, when the subject of family violence was not discussed. I was in my early twenties before I even heard the phrase "child abuse." While I was growing up, I didn't know that there was a term for what was happening to me. There was no internet; the media didn't tell stories of abuse, and society at large held the "goings on" within any nuclear family as "none of our business."

As a child, and as a young adult, my pleas for help were met with silence, blame, or the typical "get over it" advice. For many years, the wall of silence I faced succeeded at keeping me compliant.

The door to recovery began to open when at thirty-five, I entered therapy and I found a few close confidants who were willing to bear witness to my pain. I will be forever grateful!

And still, my recovery was largely solitary. After suffering through decades with the old adage, "forgive, forget, and get over it," I knew there had to be a better way. I read survivor stories. There were very few back then, but for the first time, the validation I received from these stories offered a soothing balm to my injured soul. I was not alone!

In time, I needed more than mutual commiseration. I wanted tips from survivors on how to heal; time to heal, and mostly, I longed for self-preservation, and for permission NOT to forgive.

I became frustrated with the small availability of survivor stories during the eighties. The books I found were either the "This is what happened to me," variety without any blueprint for hope and healing, or the "Celebrity" sort of books that irritated me with, "I was abused, but I have forgiven, and now I have a great life," without showing concrete or realistic reasons/methods for forgiveness or the healing process in between.

After decades of abuse and finally the heartbreaking estrangement from my entire family, I decided to research and write the book I was looking for. A book based on the premise that forgiveness can be premature and wasn't necessary in order to heal. In fact, at that point in my recovery, trying to forgive had actually caused me a great deal of psychological damage.

I spent weeks at the library looking for books and articles to support my contention that forgiveness wasn't necessary. There were "slim pickins" back then, but I did find some material. The small dose of validation I received that it was okay not to forgive, gave me a huge sense of relief! It also afforded me the freedom necessary to focus solely on myself and what I needed in order to heal. It was liberating to say the least.

I had no idea where the writing of this book would take me. My first draft was titled, Mother, I Don't Forgive You: A Necessary Alternative for Healing. I still like that title; it speaks to an important part of my journey.

I encourage others to write. Writing helped me heal and healing helped me write. I wrote nearly non-stop for about four years, the last two of which I simultaneously sought publication. At first, I purged myself of a whopping 500 typewritten pages that read more like the diary of a mad woman than anything else. Yet, that first draft helped me process my recovery with greater clarity. This clarity, in turn helped me write more succinctly, which subsequently helped me understand my recovery better and so on. This process helped me refine the text down to about 100 pages that were more powerfully written.

While researching my book, I read some wonderful titles, including, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, by Susan Forward, Divorcing a Parent: Free Yourself from the Past and Live the Life You've Always Wanted, by Beverly Engels, and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth, by Alice Miller.

These books aided me in my recovery a great deal. Yet, they didn't offer me the complete process I was looking for from a survivors perspective.........

Sunday, November 23, 2008

As the Holidays Approach.......

...So too, does the stress of the season. When dealing with family estrangement, the holidays seem to illuminate our losses.

I recall the pain I felt as I watched other families gather together in what appeared to be loving harmony, or at least a sense of belonging. I felt ripped off! Throughout the first years of my family estrangement, I suffered through the holidays, and other significant events nursing my wounds, while I tried to cope with my feelings of exclusion and rejection.

After a few years of allowing myself the space to mourn my losses, I filled my holidays by honoring new connections.

If you are recently estranged, take heart that the pain of estrangement and that of dealing with the holidays does lessen with time. Mourning is a necessary part of the process. When we are done mourning the old, we make room for the new.

The following is a reprint of one of my very first posts:

Holiday Stress

The pain of family estrangement is often heightened during the holiday season. I clearly remember the anguish I experienced during the initial stages of my fourteen-year estrangement from my entire family of origin. The abrupt loss of my mother, three brothers, and grandparents - months before the holidays - left me paralyzed. The prospect of spending the holidays alone - without any family, or life-long traditions - seemed daunting. What would I do with my two young children? My therapist stated matter-of-factly, "You will create new holiday traditions."

This simple statement seemed like an impossible task.

The first year, I did nothing. I wrongly assumed someone would come to my rescue and invite my daughters and me for the holidays. The next year, I took matters into my own hands, and invited another family we had know for years, for Thanksgiving and Christmas day. They were happy to accept our invitation, because they didn't have any family in the area. This began an annual tradition that provided my children with a new "family of choice."

Granted, the first few years were still difficult. I continued to mourn for my family rather than to appreciate the people right in front of me; however, in time, I realized that I had built new traditions that were far more fun and loving than the old. I made sure my kids anticipated the same holiday activities each year - cookies, music, decorating, planning a menu, and performing community service. Community involvement gave us the sense of being a part of something bigger than we are.

Today, I look forward to the holidays with great excitement and we all look back over the years with warmth, and laughter, reminiscing about prior holidays and the fun we have had together.

My mother's sister is the only family member from whom I was not estranged. The second year of my estrangement, she began including my children and me in her annual Christmas Eve celebration, and has for every year since. I will be forever grateful for her love, support, and our shared history.

My circumstances taught me to appreciate the loving people who are in my life, and not to take my blessings for granted. I've learned through this experience not only to reflect on that for which I am grateful, but to express my words of appreciation to those who have enriched my life.

The Holidays can be the best - or worst time of year.

Wishing everyone peace, love, and the sharing of old, and new traditions!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Since there are many different reasons for estrangement, I feel conflicted about the issue of grandparents. Depending upon our situation - whether it's a grandchild missing a grandparent, a parent withholding their children, or a grandparent longing for a grandchild - the broken relationship pose's heartbreak.

In my own situation, my mother never showed any interest in my children; before, or after our estrangement. Although, even if she had, I wouldn't have felt comfortable leaving them alone with her. When my daughters were little, this caused me a great deal of anguish. Since my father died when I was young, I mourned that my children would never know what it is like to have a loving grandparent.

I had such fond memories of my own grandmother that I was sad that my children would miss experiencing this important human relationship. However, my children did spend time with my grandmother. So much so that they thought she was their grandmother. This made it all the more difficult when my grandmother, whom we loved dearly, cut us out of her life for good. I couldn't understand how a loving grandmother could reject her grandchild and great-grandchildren.

In other words, I come from the perspective of longing for the grandparent relationship for myself and for my daughters, while my mother and grandmother did not want a relationship with their grandchildren.

I also understand when, in cases of abuse, a parent does not allow their children to see their grandparents. Many adult children are clear - certainly those who have experienced sexual abuse - that they don't want their own children left unattended with their parents. Yet, they often find themselves legally or emotionally embattled with their parents over visitation with their children.

Other families walk the fine line between wanting their children to receive the good their families have to offer, while guarding against harmful circumstances. Unfortunately, many of these families often find their children "in the middle." receiving confusing messages from both sides as to who was right, who was wrong and who is to blame for the estrangement.

And then there are grandparents who have been cut out of their children's and grandchildren's lives and they don't know why. They mourn for their children, the grandchildren they love, and the grandchildren they will never meet; precious time, never to be replaced. My heart breaks for these individuals as well. Although I haven't had this experience, I feel a shared empathy through the universal loss that comes with estrangement.

I've heard of many different circumstances causing a family cut off: intolerance, sexuality, choice of mate, In-laws, family dysfunction, abuse, etc. Usually, the cause of the rift has been building for years without adequate communication. Then, a single event "appears" to have caused the rift.

No matter which way you cut it - estrangements are painful stuff!

Book Give-Away - Closed

The Book Give-Away is now closed.

To those receiving copies, thank you for your interest and for sharing some of your stories with me!

I hope that you find Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation helpful on your journey!

Warm wishes,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Book Give-Away

I wrote Heal and Forgive II for many of the same reasons I wrote Heal and Forgive. I sought to turn my negative experience into a positive by advocating for other individuals in similar circumstances. In that vein, I would like to give away 10 free copies of Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation, to the first 10 people who contact me.

You can reach me through the e-mail address on my profile page.

All my best,

Monday, October 27, 2008

Birthday Gifts?

When it comes to family estrangement, people often wonder if they should send birthday gifts to their nieces, nephews, and/or grandchildren. We want to let our little loved ones know that we love them and that we are thinking about them. Yet, we wonder: Will their parents give the children these gifts? Will their parents become angry and lash out at me? Will I feel hurt at the outcome if I send this gift?

Sometimes, parents pass along gifts from estranged aunts, uncles, or grandparents. They may believe that their children would be comforted knowing that an estranged family member still loves them and thinks about them.

Other times, parents withhold the gifts. Sometimes, parents refuse gifts out of anger. This of course is very sad for everyone involved. Another reason parents withhold gifts is that they don't want to send their children confusing messages about the broken relationship or enter into a who is "right" and who is "wrong" discussion. They may not want to make their child sad or answer uncomfortable questions about why they don't see their aunt, uncle, or grandparent. Ultimately, it is up to the parent to decide what is in the best interest of their children.

I sent gifts to my nieces and nephews in the early years of my estrangement, knowing that they may very well never receive the gifts (they did not). Yet, I wanted my nieces and nephews to know that I loved them - even if from afar. I have found that the pain of estrangement can often give way to the power of living a life of love and integrity.

Friday, October 17, 2008


According to, the definition of enmeshment is:

In human relationships, this term means two or more people who don't have clear identities and boundaries (limits) that separate one person from the other. Thus an enmeshed person can't distinguish the difference between my needs, feelings, opinions, and priorities and yours.

Enmeshment was certainly present in my family of origin. Abusive families have a way of creating enmeshed family systems. It took years apart from my mother and a degree of healing that I never thought was possible in order to break free from my enmeshment.

I often hear from estranged adult children, "My parents aren't capable of thinking about anyone but themselves. Why would I want a relationship under those circumstances?"

I get that. For many years, I felt that way too. Reconciling a relationship seemed like a return to my enmeshed (and abusive) family system.

For me, it took more than a decade of estrangement to heal enough to stand as a separate adult individual with a healthy indifference towards my mother's opinions, and needs; to protect my own well-being; to exercise great boundaries; to accept my mother just as she is; to give up any expectations of a normal mother-daughter sort of relationship, and to create a non-intimate friendship that is respectful of our differences. We simply share a history, and to me history is important.

After nearly two years of reconciliation, my mother and I are yet to know one another. She has never inquired about my life, such as how I spend my time, my interests, work, etc. and that is okay with me. I recognize that she is not my "safe place to fall," or someone with whom I can share anything of significance. We merely talk about old memories, current events, or her life.

My life hasn't really changed much from when we were estranged, but it feels better. I can move freely to and from family and social events without the negative strain of "being at odds, " or feeling rejected. I know my mother's inability to mother is about her - not about me.

I've made peace with the wounds of the past. I have "blasted through my mountain of pain" so that my abuse is a memory rather than a present reality. I no longer feel the "void" of estrangement or "lost" without a home.

Home is finally of my own making.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reconciliation – Not Always an Option

During most of my fourteen year family estrangement, I considered reconciliation to be an impossible task. Given our family history of abuse, it didn't feel safe or healthy to try to reestablish contact with my family members. Nor did they try to contact me.

Certainly, in some situations, reconciliation isn’t possible. I know a woman who moved across the country, unlisted her phone number and started life anew only to have her violent family members track her down, stalk her, and interfere with her new job, friends and neighbors.

I have heard from other people who deeply desire a relationship with a parent or sibling, but they simply cannot put themselves in harms way for the sake of a connection. As painful as estrangement is, these individuals must somehow learn to live with a separation that feels like the “lesser of two evils.”

Many people do wish to reconcile with family members only to face repeated rejection.

It can be hard to accept that we only have control over our half of the relationship. At some point, the time comes to simply accept the cards we were dealt and move on to live the best life possible.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Forgiveness Poll

Once again, I want to thank everyone who has participated in my poll! I loved receiving your feedback.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a glitch in the poll software. Blogger issues??? I checked blogger for poll bugs, but I didn't find any results. Anyhow, the votes keep falling off and disappearing.

Since the poll no longer seems to be working properly, I decided to post the last known results I had and take down the poll. Thanks to all who joined in!

As I’ve said before, during the span of the last thirty years – given where I was on my recovery at the time - I could have voted for seven out of the eleven choices here.

These are the results:
How much has forgiveness played a role in your recovery from abuse:

None 3 (6%)

Somewhat – Plays a small roll in my process. 1 (2%)

Somewhat - I don’t want to forgive and I’m okay with that. 4 (8%)

Somewhat – Forgiveness is a journey and I’m comfortable with my pace. 11 (22%)

Quite a bit – I’d like to forgive, but I am unable. 4 (8%)

Quite a bit – I won’t forgive unless some conditions are met. 3 (6%)

Quite a bit – I have forgiven. 6 (12%)

Huge - I’ll never forgive. 1 (2%)

Huge – Makes me angry. I feel damaged by pressure from others to forgive. 9 (18%)

Huge – My abuser acknowledged my injuries, asked for forgiveness and I have forgiven. 6 (12%)

None of the above. 3 (6%)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Survivor's Manifesto

April_optimist at The Thriver's Toolbox submitted A Survivor's Manifesto to The Blog Carnival Against Abuse that I'd like to share here.

I believe that many survivors of trauma and abuse will feel empowered by her post.

Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

Yay! The Carnival is back over at Survivor’s Can Thrive with a great collection of posts from the survivor community.

Kudos to Marj for her perseverance.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Confronting an Abuser

Confronting an abuser can be very frightening.

Prior to our estrangement, I confronted my mother about the violence in our family numerous times. During my first attempts, I hadn’t healed enough to be clear about my needs. Nor was I sufficiently prepared to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. Each time I approached my mother, I stood before her still feeling like a damaged child, hoping she was willing to change our family dynamic. She was not.

Later, after preparing and rehearsing with my therapist, I learned to confront my mother without the false hopes that she would suddenly “see the light,” apologize and change. Instead, I prepared for her to deny, blame me, become angry, and tell me that I was crazy.

Yet, it was important for me to "stand in the truth" and a) Calmly tell her what she had done to harm me. b) Express feeling unloved, frightened and alone as a result of the abuse. c) Explain how her betrayal affected my ability to trust and the long-term effects I suffered as an adult, and d) What I expected from her with respect to my minor brother’s safety and that of my own children. I did all this in the most loving tone possible. I prepared at length to make sure I didn’t behave in a passive-aggressive or threatening way, nor would I defend or engage in any argument.

Although she did react with anger, name calling and blame, I felt empowered in that I took control of my own life and I moved from victim to survivor. It was a “cleansing” experience.

My mother was appalled that I calmly “gave voice to the truth.” Her attempts to maintain status quo and to keep me in the victim role gave me the courage to place my own well-being first and to end our relationship. From there my authentic healing process began.

When confronting an abuser, I think it is important to be prepared for the possibility that they may end the relationship, or that you may determine that it is time to end a relationship that does not allow for your emotional health.

It is important to prepare and rehearse all the possibilities to bolster your confidence and to make sure you are strong enough to handle being “challenged” by your abuser. Practice role playing with a therapist and/or a supportive friend. Make sure you have support every step of the way.

If your relationship has been particularly violent and you are afraid to meet in person, many people write letters. Sometimes the letters are to try to maintain a relationship, and sometimes they are to cleanse yourself of the past and move on.

After my mother and I became estranged I wrote her a letter to get everything “off my chest” and feel “heard” in absentia. It wasn’t a letter I ever intended to send. It was about me, not a desired response from my mom. Once written, I read it myself and ceremoniously burned it.

Confrontation isn’t for everyone. Don’t feel pressured to confront if you haven’t healed enough to take this step; if you don’t have adequate support, or if you don’t feel safe. Confrontation is a personal decision and isn’t a necessary step for everyone. Healing comes in many shapes and forms. Every individual should decide for themselves what it is that brings them the most peace.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Majority Rules

Sometimes it is difficult to see ourselves clearly. I read somewhere that the brain can diagnose a problem anywhere in its own body - except in itself!

Sometimes, other people can help give us perspective. A friend once told me, "If someone tells you that you're a horse and you are sure that you are not, dismiss their comment outright. If another person tells you that you're a horse, think about the possibility before you dismiss their words. But, if a third person tells you that you're a horse - start eating hay!"

When it comes to many relationship issues, I believe this is sound advice. For instance, many people had to tell me that I lacked patience before I believed them.

Often, the old adage, "Majority Rules," is true.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. When it comes to abuse and family estrangement, there is a flaw in the typical majority rules theory. Family systems are living, breathing organisms much like the individual brain. They can't diagnose themselves. They often cling to the only thing they know - years of embedded patterns of abuse, enmeshment, and/or control.

Often, when someone tries to break a dysfunctional family pattern, they are in the minority. The rest of the family clings to "status quo" and expresses, "Look, we all agree. There is something wrong with you." Outsiders quickly concur. Majority rules.

I was in the minority in my family - often a painful place to be. But, sometimes, the frustration of living in minority gives way to the healing power of constructing a life free from abuse!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reconciliation - Starting Fresh

Often, re-establishing relationships with family members can appear to be an impossible task. Yet, sometimes people are surprised when the road to healing leads to new beginnings.

Most people I’m acquainted with who have successfully mended an estrangement, didn’t go back and re-hash specific events from the past. For this reason healing prior wounds on your own is very important.

If you believe the time may be right to reconcile – move slowly. Understand that the process of healing broken relationships does not happen overnight. Resolution can take months and even years. Take baby steps while you begin to build trust – both in yourself and with your relatives. It is much easier to move forward slowly than it is to try to pull back if you have moved too fast.

Balance your hope with realistic expectations. Reconciliation doesn't mean the relationship will be perfect. Hopefully, with growth, you will have developed new ways to respond to old patterns.

Start out accentuating the positive. Find common ground. Reminisce about good memories, share mutual interests, and express positive feelings.

If you have been estranged from your entire family, rather than “jumping” right back in and seeing all of them at once, you may want to consider staggering separate visits.

At first, keep your time short and don’t discuss difficult issues that come up with your family until you have had time to work through intense emotions alone or with supportive friends. Spend time in between visits adjusting to and absorbing the many positive and negative conflicting emotions you will experience by sharing with trusted confidants: a therapist, a minister, friends, and/or support groups.

Expect to navigate some slippery slopes and develop ways to help you cope with new situations. You may want to limit the length of your visits at first and insulate yourself by not spending one-on-one time with a family member if you don’t feel safe.

After attempting reconciliation, you may be satisfied with the results and you may not. You can only control your half of the relationship.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Forgiveness and Boundaries

For many abuse survivors, the traditional forgiveness advice doesn’t ring true. Most often people tell us that our anger, hate and resentment are harming us. For me, this focus misses the mark. For it is not hate and resentment that holds many survivors back; it is fear.

Boundaries issues are common in abusive family systems. When a child’s body, heart, and soul are routinely violated, their life is constructed in the absence of boundaries.

One of the reasons forgiveness was so frightening for me, is that it felt like I would be leaving myself wide open to injury. Forgiveness was premature until I had healed enough to protect myself from further harm.

Forgiveness and boundaries must go hand in hand.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Old, “New” Family Tradition

Sixteen years ago, when I became estranged from my entire family of origin, the prospect of starting over, all alone without any family seemed very daunting.

Just as with mourning any physical death, the emotional deaths I experienced cut off from my family were overwhelming; first family vacations, birthdays, holidays – all the events that suddenly vanished with no connection to my history.

Prior to estrangement, my children had spent their weekends and summer vacations at our “family” vacation home on the lake, just as I had as a child, and as my father had before me. I was Ill- equipped to deal with the enormity of this loss in tandem with the loss of my family. We needed a new traditional get-away that would become special to my children and me. We chose the San Juan Islands as an annual destination and began building new memories before we even had a chance to mourn the old.

For the first few years, I just went through the motions of doing something new. My heart was not in the task before me, nor with the new environment surrounding me. A number of years passed before I realized that we had developed a new tradition that was less stressful than my prior experience. Although I never stopped mourning the lake, our vacations became a time of fun and excitement.

For the past 14 years, my daughters and I have reminisced about our prior summers on the island while we continue to create new memories. We look forward to the same traditional activities, good food, exercise, enjoying one another’s company, and teasing each other with the same “inside” family vacation jokes.

We leave tomorrow for our fifteenth annual “new” family tradition. Be back next week!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Sometimes, while reading, playing with my kids, working, laughing with a friend, or talking with my guy, a sudden gesture, word, memory, or even a smell transported me back to a frightening time. I found myself stuck between two worlds; the one I inhabited as a child – which at least for the moment inhabited me – and the present. At that instant, it was difficult to discern which one was real.

As I surf many survivor blogs, I am struck by the number of times I read the word **triggers**. In fact, the trigger warning seems to be rather common place today. Sadly, common means many.

It’s good to know that we are not alone; it is sad to know that so many have endured similar pain.

It’s good to see so many breaking their silence and healing; it’s sad to see that so many need to heal.

It’s good to know my experience doesn’t separate me from humanity like I thought for so long, but rather connects me to humanity in so many ways.

After suffering from terrifying triggers for decades, I can’t remember the last time I felt triggered. I do still have memories, but they feel in the past rather than the present. Sometimes, I get sad and mourn for the little girl of long ago. I feel compassion for myself and empathy for others. And sometimes, I even get angry. But, for the first time in my life, I feel safe.

There is hope!

Saturday, August 9, 2008


I like analogies. Often during my healing process, analogies have helped me wrap my head around concepts by making them clearer. Yesterday, I heard Dr. Robin Smith use an analogy on Oprah and Friends radio that I found interesting. Her analogy was called “Taking an air-conditioner into hell.”

She said that we all find ourselves in circumstances that are slowly killing us either, physically, emotionally, or spiritually and we stay in hell while we try to mitigate the damage in order to endure our situation. She said this was like, “Taking an air-conditioner into hell, rather than leaving hell and beginning to heal.”

Prior to adequate healing and understanding my patterns of behavior, a number of stressful or damaging relationships affected my life. These failures manifested themselves from my old programming – misplaced trust and inappropriate responses. I responded to feelings of betrayal out of fear, focusing on the other individual rather than resolutely safeguarding my own well-being.

Some of these relationships were so toxic that I needed to move on. For others, it was a matter of learning to exercise clear, respectful boundaries in order to leave my own personal hell behind and let the healing begin.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Who Wants to be the Bad Guy?

The answer is – Nobody!

This certainly holds true for family estrangement.

I can’t count on my fingers the number of times I’ve heard estrangee’s say that family member(s) refused to see them and then those same estrangers were maneuvering to make it look as if the family estrangement was the estrangee’s fault.

They questioned how to respond so they didn’t come off as the bad guy to extended family members and friends.

The truth is – when you are on the “other” side of any family estrangement – you are perceived to be the bad guy; it is the nature of estrangement. So, make decisions that are best for you, rather than trying to attain an unattainable outcome.

Our experiences are OUR experiences and quite often they do not align with those of our "loved ones.” Regardless of how other people view our circumstances, we need to stand firmly and confidently in our own truth and make choices for ourselves accordingly.

I haven't met anyone yet (including myself) who has said, "I am estranged from so and so, and it is all MY fault." We tend to say, "I am estranged and it is THEIR fault; listen to what happened - this is my experience."

Currently, after moving through the reconciliation process with my mother, I have a new vantage point. She has her experience and I have mine. They are quite different; yet, to me it doesn't matter.

Sixteen years ago, I estranged myself from my mother. I don't regret my decision to estrange. As painful as it was - it afforded me the opportunity to heal from my abuse and find some peace in my life.

In the beginning of our estrangement, I looked at our conflicts and considered myself right. I needed to do this to build a foundation for healing - to honor the depth of my injuries, to release my anger and to mourn my losses. It was the first layer of a necessary process.

Later, I understood that we were both "right" about our own experiences. Even though I could "hold" both of our experiences I still kept proper boundaries and didn't see her because I didn't feel safe. It was a major step for me to be able to have compassion for her without acting on that compassion vs. only seeing my side.

It seems clear that everyone has a right to protect themselves from severe abuse. My experience was that the estrangement was necessary for my very survival. At some point during our estrangement, I realized that whether I liked it or not, Mom and I had different experiences. Mom's experience was that I kept causing turmoil in her life by "complaining" about the abuse in the family. As skewed as this may seem to me, I do agree that this WAS her experience. My complaints DID cause turmoil in her life.

During our estrangement, I sought and received validation from others that it wasn't okay to abuse me. And Mom sought and received validation from others that I was a trouble-maker and shouldn't have cut her out of my life for any reason.

Nobody wants to feel like the bad guy. Finding the balance between confidence and compassion comes from within.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Like many survivors, once I moved passed my denial and accepted the reality of my abuse, I questioned: “Why?”

“Why was/is my mother so cruel to me?”

“How could my own mother _______(reject, betray, torture, abandon) me?”

I think it is human to question why. We long to make sense of it all. As if the answers will magically give us a handle on what happened.

In time, I realized that my questions were fruitless and that they kept me stuck in an unhealthy emotional place. The important thing was to move forward with my own healing, and so I did.

Yet, people continued to ask me, “What was your mother’s childhood like? What happened to her that caused her reactions to life and to you?”

I do appreciate why they asked me this question. They wanted some relief from their discomfort.

I understand wanting some relief. I remember watching the move “Sybil” many years ago. I was horrified for Sybil throughout the movie and kept asking myself, “How could a mother do such things?”

Finally, towards the end of the movie, it was divulged that Sybil’s mother was schizophrenic. I felt a sense of “relief” when I heard this, because the diagnosis offered an “explanation.” Surely, no “normal” mother would “mutilate” her daughter’s internal reproductive organs with a knife.

I “walked” away from the movie less disturbed, and that really horrified me!!!

The diagnosis didn’t change Sybil’s trauma, or experiences; it didn’t serve to lesson the impact on her life. I felt ashamed that I let her mother’s diagnosis mollify me.

In my books, I deliberately avoided any theoretical discussion as to the root causes of my abuse. I know this leaves the reader more “disturbed” about the abuse, but it more closely aligns with the survivor’s experience. As children, we did not have the benefit of understanding “root causes,” or our parent’s history. We didn’t know we were taking on our parents issues. For instance, all I knew was that my mother told me I was “bad,” and I believed her.

As children, we didn’t get the relief so many people want when they hear our stories. In my opinion, we should feel disturbed when we see, hear, or read about abuse, rather than mollified.

It is my hope the day will come we when are able to take the emphasis off of the perpetrator and our own discomfort in order to “share the burden of pain” with the victim/survivor and make an effective shift in our collective humanity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weddings and Funerals

People experiencing family estrangements often agonize over what to do about weddings and funerals. To go, or not to go? Often, neither option feels good.

The answer is different for everyone depending on the circumstances and whichever decision brings us the most peace.

During my fourteen year family estrangement, I had to deal with this issue a number of times. The most difficult was my grandmother’s funeral six years into our estrangement. Although I loved her deeply, I simply did not feel safe enough to attend. Grandma had refused to see me right up until her death. At that point in my abuse recovery, I still wasn’t capable of facing what I believed would be a continued wall of angry abuse, blame, and rejection. The soul-crushing isolation caused by not attending her service left me devastated. I stayed home and cried all day. Yet, I never regretted my decision.

Two years later, I found an invitation to my brother Brandon’s wedding in my mailbox. Recalling the angry words he wrote to me in a letter eight years earlier gave me pause. Nonetheless, I regarded his invitation at face value, even though I didn’t feel safe enough to attend the wedding.

I immediately sent Brandon and his fiancé a gift along with a letter revealing how honored I was to be invited to their wedding. I told him that I regarded the invitation as a wonderful gesture of love, wished Brandon and his bride-to-be every happiness, and expressed my desire to meet with them after the wedding.

Fourteen years into our family estrangement, I did attend a family funeral. It was important to me to go. I wanted to say good-bye to my cousin and to honor what was a good part of my family history. Although the thought of facing my family felt very challenging, I believed I had healed enough to face the challenge. I am so glad I went.

My gentleman friend went with me for support. We arrived just in time for the service, sat towards the back, and felt touched by the sweet and faithful service.

After the service, we mingled a little to say "hello" to some of my extended relatives, and left. I was prepared to be cordial and go about my way if I had unavoidable contact with my mother or brothers; however, I didn't have any contact with them, nor did they attempt to have any contact with me.

Overall, it was an emotional day, but it couldn't have gone better.

Each of these situations presented their own set of challenges. Nonetheless, to this day, I am satisfied that I did the right thing for me at each point in my estrangement and recovery.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Underlying Gift in my Estrangement

When we hurt, sometimes it is difficult to see anything other than our pain. For me, estrangement seemed like drawing the “short stick" - a matter of survival - but not emotional prosperity.

After the loss of my childhood to physical and emotional abuse, I was determined to construct a healthy life for my daughters and me.

As painful as my estrangement was, I used the time to grow in ways that would not have been possible while having a relationship with my family members. My greatest emotional growth occurred as a result of my separation from my mother. Our parting was essential for me to have the time to heal in an environment free from re-injury. It forced me to develop my own sense of self, separate from my family and shook me free from my denial. Estrangement gave me the space necessary to learn to set boundaries within the safety of a protective cocoon.

Of course, during the bulk of the time I was cut off from my family, I saw only the down side of estrangement – feeling rejected and disconnected. I wanted to heal from my abuse, be safe, and have relationships with my family. It wasn’t until after we reconciled that I saw the underlying gift in our estrangement. I am who I am today as a result of all the hard work, self-nurturing, and support I received from other individuals in my life that would not have been possible if I remained “enmeshed” in an unhealthy family dynamic.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lion Love

Okay, this is something completely different than I usually post, but I can’t get this video out of my mind.

I’ve spent some time wondering why I am so “taken” with this video. Maybe it is because it reminds me of the missing bond I had with my father. Or, maybe it is because I’m fascinated that love expressed authentically can transcend species, whereas so many families are estranged.

Or, maybe it is because the video stands alone as profoundly heartwarming. Whatever the reason, check it out:

And if you enjoyed the video you can read the back story here:\

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Get over it" vs. "Go through it"

When it comes to the pain of abuse and estrangement, we are often encouraged to just “Get over it.” Survivors often share with me how painful it is to reach out for help only to hear, “Get over it.” It occurred to me that when we place the phrase “Get over it” along side “Go through it,” “Get over it,” seems rather silly.

A few nights ago I had a strange dream. I saw two people tackling mountains in completely different ways. Of course, the physical mountains were symbolic of mountains of pain. One person was trying to “get over” the mountain on a bike. She was all alone, and working very hard. When she did finally reach the other side, she noticed that no matter how hard she tried to move on, she was always aware of the mountain. She did “get over it,” but it was still there in its original form. In the ensuing months and years, no matter how much she relished in conquering that mountain, she kept the secret that she was drawn back to take the difficult and lonely ride “over” the peak once more.

The other person decided to “blast” through the mountain. She too worked very hard. In fact harder than the person who biked over the mountain. However, she was not alone. She had a whole crew of supportive people on her team. Although the blasting was much harder and took years longer, she felt satisfied, because as she chipped away at that mountain, it began to disappear. Each part of the mountain became a “memory” rather than a present reality. Sometimes the work was so hard that she wished she would have just gone over it, but as she came closer and closer to the “other side,” she realized that the only way through the mountain – is through it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Yesterday, a survivor friend shared with me how she continues to allow her mother to mistreat her. She said that her downfall was her compassion. She keeps getting drawn back into the crazy-making because she has compassion for her mother.

Boundary issues are common in abusive family systems. Abuse victims and survivors are often programmed to empathize with those who harm us. Other individuals also insist that we should have compassion for an offender in an effort to resolve conflict.

There was a time in my young life when I too had a great deal of compassion for my mother. Whenever I acted on my compassion, I seemed to be giving her permission to hurt me again.

I failed to realize that having compassion for another person is not a license to allow mistreatment. Compassion should go hand in hand with clear, respectful boundaries. Feeling compassion didn’t mean that I had to act on compassion and put myself in harms way.

As a young adult, when I risked sharing the trauma of my childhood, my chosen confidant often ignored my words by simply insisting that I should have compassion for my mother. This response made me very angry because my previous attempts at acting on my compassion failed to heal our relationship and only served to allow myself to be hurt again.

I didn’t experience the compassion of a loving mother growing up, nor did I learn self-compassion. I needed to experience some compassion. Placing conditions on the victim and not on the offender seemed very damaging.

Just as with premature forgiveness – compassion can be premature. The sort of
assistance I needed from others was to just "hold" my experience, listen to me, validate me, and have compassion for me without placing any conditions on me.

Until I was able to focus solely on my own healing, on becoming self-compassionate, and on learning to protect myself, compassion for my mother had to wait.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fourth of July

Independence day! A day we celebrate our freedom, with family picnics, fireworks, games, food, BBQ’s, and parades. A day off of work! And a day for many that is packed with all kinds of fun…

…However, for some, the 4th of July is another solitary day of mourning.

The pain of family estrangement is often heightened during any holiday.

When faced with my first holiday alone – disconnected from my lifelong family traditions – my therapist stated matter-of-factly, "You will create new holiday traditions."

Easier said than done. Throughout the first years of my family estrangement, I suffered through birthdays, holidays, and other significant events nursing my wounds while I tried to cope with my feelings of exclusion and rejection.

However, my therapist was right. In time, I did create new holiday traditions that were far more fun and loving than the old.

If you are recently estranged, take heart that the pain of estrangement and that of dealing with the holidays does lessen with time. Mourning is a necessary part of the process. When we are done mourning the old, we make room for the new.

Happy Fourth of July!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Spiritual Healing

For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother's womb.

Psalm 139:13

I have had to performed a great deal of difficult emotional work in order to heal from my abuse. Indeed, the psychological aspects of recovery are paramount.

Therapy ultimately brightened the recess of my mind, while my spiritual commitment brightened my heart and soul. My faith has carried me through some of the darkest moments of my life.

The first time I read Psalm 139:13, I felt like an innocent child, discovering something simple, yet wonderful, for the very first time – like my hands or like my feet. Before anyone was aware of my existence, God chose me as His child and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

This comforting verse brought healing tears to my eyes and restoration to my injured soul. Right from the beginning, I was loved; I was not alone.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Reconciliation – Recovery time

Each time I had contact with one of my family members, I needed recovery time to absorb a wide range of conflicting emotions: sadness, joy, uncertainty, hope, sorrow, and issues of trust. Contrary to the old ways, of “powering” through each event, I remained present with my feelings, staying true to myself and let my well-being guide me.

At first my movements were slow and tentative. I kept my visits brief and didn’t discuss difficult issues that came up with my family until I had time to work through intense emotions alone or with supportive friends.

I took baby steps while I began to build trust – both in myself and with my family members.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound?

Listening. It seems so simple, but it is so hard to do. Listening is the ultimate gift that can be given to a wounded soul. As a child I longed to be seen and heard.

When I spoke about the woundedness of my heart, body, and emotions; nobody seemed to hear what I said. I was an invisible youngster. I grew up alone and in emotional poverty, without being seen by anyone. I didn’t have a voice; therefore, it seemed I had no value.

I learned as an adult that when our childhood pain is ignored, our trauma remains fused to us until someone frees us from our bondage by simply listening to our heartache. In other words, a listener tends to the wounds that have festered, unhealed for years.

When I finally found someone to just listen, without judging, blaming, arguing, or advising, the relief I felt was indescribable. At long last, I had the opportunity to “grow from there.”

Once I felt validated, I became unstuck from the point in time that my trauma became fused to me. After feeling heard, my sole focus shifted from that of being heard to that of healing from the offense.

If a child speaks of their abuse and nobody is there to hear, do they make a sound?

We often hear stories about courageous people who “break the silence.” I’m grateful to those who have the courage to “hear.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kaleidoscope of Emotion

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of my new book: Heal & Forgive II: The Journey From Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation.


Kaleidoscope of Emotion

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis."One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity. - John F. Kennedy, Speach in Indianapolis, April 12, 1959

On an ordinary morning in the autumn of 2006, fourteen years after I had last spoken to my mother, my receptionist buzzed my office. Jan interrupted my busy morning with the cautiously spoken words, “There is a woman on line two who says her name is Jean Richards.”

“Oh, oh,” I surmised out loud, “she must have read my book.”

I drew in a deep breath, preparing myself for the expected angry rant. I would merely convey to my mother my understanding for why she was upset, tell her that I loved her, and end the conversation with a gentle “good-bye.” Certain I was prepared for our exchange, I picked up the phone. I wasn’t prepared for what I heard next.

“Hi, Honey; this is Mom,” came the soft-spoken words that I thought I would never hear again.

Confusion quickly replaced my clear-headed mind. The apology she offered for my abuse, along with her love and a desire for reconciliation were directly opposite to everything I knew about my mother. I told her I was speechless and that I never anticipated she would call again. After sitting quietly for a few moments, I said, “No matter what happens between us, Mom, you have given me a wonderful and irreplaceable gift.”

We talked for a short while and exchanged contact information before concluding our conversation. I hung up and wept.

For the rest of the day, my body was in the state of shock. My thinking was clouded, my resting pulse hovered at around 120 beats per minute, and a dull headache grew with intensity. I grappled to make sense of something that made no sense in the world as I had known it. I couldn’t hold a clear thought as my feelings ran rampant. I experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions, wildly clashing in distorted colorful directions – shock…love…fear…relief…joy…sorrow…excitement...pain...calmness...stress... happiness…sadness….

I loved my mother and had long since forgiven her. Could this be true? Could Mom and I really have a relationship now? Ultimately, I stopped seeing her. Had she forgiven me too?

Copyright © 2008 Nancy Richards. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Translation Rights

A Vietnamese publisher just contacted my publisher to negotiate Vietnamese foreign translation rights for Heal and Forgive: Forgiveness in the Face of Abuse.

How fun is that!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Heal & Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estangement to Reconciliation

I am happy to announce that Heal and Forgive II is finally out!

This book would have never made it to print without the incredible help and support I received from a team of wonderful people.

I would like to thank Alice Peppler of Alice ‘n Ink, my publisher Paul Clemens of Blue Dolphin Publishing, Inc., Leona Idom, Chris Richards, Bill Petschl, Mary Morrison, Dawn McArthur, and Colin McArthur for their careful reading of the manuscript. I’m grateful for their editing, knowledge, support, input, expertise, helpful suggestions and in general just putting up with me.

I am grateful to the many men and women who have offered their support in my estrangement support groups. I am honored to have your encouragement on my journey. Your validation and feedback helped to give me the clarity necessary to put my experiences on paper.

I also want to thank those who wrote endorsements for this book: Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune, Founder and Senior Analyst of the Faith Trust Institute, Sister Renee Pittelli, Director of Luke 17:3 Ministries, and Leona Idom, a fellow survivor.

A special thanks to Mark Sichel, CSW author of Healing from Family Rifts: Ten Steps to Finding Peace after Being Cut off from a Family Member, for his exceptional foreword to my book.

I hope this book is enormously helpful to many.

Warm regards,


Monday, June 9, 2008

Reconciliation – Taking the Leap – Part Four

The following is an excerpt from Heal and Forgive II:

Just as with premature forgiveness, there are certainly dangers associated with premature reconciliation. Healing first is imperative for successful resolution. Many people feel external or internal pressure to reconcile too soon – thereby sabotaging all chances for success.

I’ve heard from people who feel desperate to reunite when a family member becomes ill, their parents age or out of guilt or pressure from others. We may be anxious for reconciliation out of a need to receive the nurturing we have always longed for, or to fill the void. No matter how much we desire reuniting with those from whom we are estranged, our family members may be unable or unwilling to have a relationship.

Unless we have healed enough to move past our anger, the time is not suitable for reconciliation. If we can’t trust ourselves enough to provide our own safety, we are not safe enough to see a parent who has abused us. Reuniting is not possible if we haven’t broken old patterns of behaving and responding. We need to be strong enough to maintain our own boundaries and separate identity, or we run the risk of causing further damage to our psyche.

Before I considered reconciliation, I had to ask myself – has there been emotional growth and change on both sides since last we spoke?

Copyright © 2008 Nancy Richards. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Reconciliation – Taking the Leap – Part Three

A few days after my initial conversation with my brother Randy, my brother Brandon and I spoke. We made arraignments to meet at an outdoor dinner theater, for a performance of Annie. It was the first time I met his two kids.

There are many painful firsts when we become cut-off from our family members – first birthdays, holidays, successes, and tragedies – all dealt with alone. These same firsts can be bittersweet upon re-entry. Meeting my nephew and niece for the very first time touched my heart with smiles and tears – we had lost precious time, never to be replaced.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chronic Illness and Abuse

During the last several years, I have had the privilege of participating in an online community of survivors. We have shared one another’s stories in an effort to validate our experiences and support our continued healing.

A recurring topic seems to be the question of whether there is a connection between chronic illness and abuse. I have found it curious that a large number of women survivors have shared with me that they suffer from PCOS, (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) because I have PCOS also.

Many survivors seem to suffer from fibromyalgia, lupus, and IBS as well.

Whenever someone asks if I know of any research on the connection between chronic illness and abuse, I am frustrated that there seems to be a connection, but I haven’t come across any studies on the subject.

Another survivor contacted me recently. She has a new website called “Desire to Heal,” in which she is sharing the beginnings of her research on the connection between chronic illness and abuse.

Anyone interested in this topic, please visit her site and feel free to contact her with any feedback that would aid in building a network for survivors seeking answers to questions about chronic illness and abuse.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Side of the Bed Closest to the Door

I’ve moved a lot in my life. In fact, there was a time when my ex-husband’s employer moved us five times in five years.

At a certain point in my life, I noticed that with each move, I often ended up sleeping on the opposite side of the bed than before. I didn’t consistently choose the right side or the left side of the mattress. Every time I moved, I unconsciously chose the side of the bed closest to the door. I’ve instinctively positioned myself for a “quick get-away,” in the event of danger. I’m sure this is a primal survival impulse that is just a part of my “wiring.”

Many years ago, my old therapist told me that I would be “recovering” for the rest of my life. I didn’t believe him; at least I did not want to. At the time, his statement felt hopeless to me. I felt permanently broken. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t bear the thought of dealing with my anguish forever.

In the years since, I’ve spent a great deal of time learning to parent myself, to free myself of my family scapegoat mantle, and to come to terms with my anger, grief, and PTSD.

I have healed at a level that I never thought was possible. Although my abuse will always be a part of me, the majority of the time, my abuse no longer feels present, nor is it the lens through which I view my life.

Although I have greatly minimized the effects of my mistreatment, my therapist was right. I’ve reached a place that “recovering for the rest of my life” doesn’t feel “hopeless.” Instead I feel a loving acceptance towards the part of me who will probably always sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reconciliation – Taking the Leap – Part Two

Trust is a big issue when deciding whether to attempt reconciliation. I certainly wrestled with whether or not I could trust my family members.

One day, I had an epiphany. I realized that it was more important to trust myself to respond appropriately to my family members, than it was to trust them. Placing my trust in myself, gave me more control over my life while I was learning whether or not I could trust my family. In other words, could I trust myself to maintain proper boundaries while I navigated the reconciliation process (see Setting Clear, Respectful, Boundaries)?

When I shared the beginnings of my reconciliation process with a few selected individuals, they worried that I would be hurt or mistreated. I assured them that although I didn’t yet trust my family members, I had healed enough to trust myself to safeguard my own well-being. One confidant validated my stance with a wonderful analogy. He said, “Oh, it’s kind of like a martial artist walking through a dangerous neighborhood. Even though danger is present, he knows he is safe because he can depend upon his own abilities.”

“Yeah, it’s like that,” I said with a smile.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reconciliation – Taking the Leap – Part one

Since I began this blog last December, I have posted numerous topics concerning healing from abuse, estrangement, and how forgiveness and premature forgiveness played a role in my process.

As some of you may know, after a fourteen year estrangement from my entire family of origin, we have reconciled.

As painful as my estrangement was, I used the time to grow in ways that would not have been possible while having relationships with my family members. My greatest emotional growth occurred as a result of my separation from my mother. Estrangement gave me the opportunity to heal from my abuse, to learn to set and maintain clear, respectful boundaries, and forced me to develop my own sense of self, separate from my family. Yet, I never stopped missing my family. There was a void in my life; a hole in my heart where my family should be. I mourned the good I had with my brothers and what could have been with my mother.

No matter what, I loved my family. It took a lot for me to get to the point where I accepted estrangement. I didn’t like it – but I accepted it.

Our family reconciliation began with an e-mail with my brother Randy. Past experience told me to be wary of contact from my family and I wasn’t sure what to expect in the contents of his letter.

The following words are rearranged excerpts from Heal and Forgive II:

Randy opened with a simple, yet delightful youthful memory and continued with a few questions about my daughters and me. He also sent me a link to his family photo album. Suddenly, I found myself viewing pictures from the lives of family members I hadn’t seen for fourteen years. Randy had an eleven-year-old daughter and six-year-old twin sons. The photo album included pictures of the rest of my family. From a distance, I caught up on the lives of family members I had either never met or no longer knew.

Randy’s e-mail stirred up many overwhelming emotions. Slowly working through my feelings, I tried to process all the information available via the photo images. The snapshots evoked feelings in me ranging from hurt, sadness, confusion, anger, curiosity, warmth, jealousy, love, and many more.

I wasn’t sure how to feel or how to respond. Three years into the estrangement from my entire family of origin, my Grandmother rebuffed my attempts at reconciliation. Eight years into family exile, I had opened myself up with hope when my brother Brandon contacted me, only to feel rejected all over again. I was finally at a place where I accepted estrangement. Now what?

I didn’t know what this contact with Randy meant, nor did I know if his contact signaled a desire for reconciliation. Since I felt extremely frightened and vulnerable, I consulted with a few trusted friends and with my estrangement support groups. They helped to “shore me up.”

My yearning to stay on a healthy course caused me to question the wisdom of my simultaneous desire to consider a relationship with my brother. I loved Randy and I believed he loved me too; however, in the past, love was not enough.

Many questions surfaced. Am I strong enough to handle the possibility of another rejection? Will I get hurt again? Why has Randy e-mailed me? Does he want to reconcile or is he just playing around? Can Randy have a relationship with me independent from Mom? Can he accept me for myself? Would he still blame me? Had Randy experienced emotional growth as well?

I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my safety in order to have a relationship with anyone.

Taking the risk of another rejection concerned me. I decided to reply to Randy’s e-mail by simply thanking him for the pictures and his kind thoughts. I also briefly outlined what my daughters were doing with their lives and attached a few recent pictures.

Another month passed before hearing from Randy again. Randy’s second e-mail was lengthier than his first and every bit as genuine. He skillfully tested the waters by weaving together good memories from the past, information about the present, and curiosity about my daughters and me.

The next few months were filled with guarded optimism, tension, and confusion.

It was important to take “baby steps” – to proceed gradually in order to rebuild trust. We started fresh, without rehashing the past. We shared good memories and caught up on our lives. After a few e-mails and a couple of phone calls over a period of about five months, we had our first brief meeting in person.

It was wonderful!

Copyright © 2008 Nancy Richards. All Rights Reserved.