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

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.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Top Ten List of Points to Consider Before Reconciling.

After a fourteen-year family estrangement, one of my brothers contacted me. I was shocked! My heart pounded with excitement and fear. I thought that we would never speak again.

Am I ready to reconcile? Will I be hurt again if I take this leap?

In the quiet of my home, I ran a list of points to consider:
  1. Can I handle the possibility of being rejected all over again?
  2. Have we both experienced significant emotional growth and change since we estranged?
  3. Can I trust myself to set and maintain clear, respectful, boundaries?
  4. Do I feel the need to engage in old arguments and to "change" his perceptions, or can I respond differently to old family patterns?
  5. Am I able to stand confidently in my own separate identity?
  6. Do I feel the need to rehash the past?
  7. Have I healed sufficiently to differentiate between old painful experiences and the occasional present day hurt feelings?
  8. Is the threat of physical and/or emotional violence still present in my family?
  9. Am I still angry? Is he still angry?
  10. Will reconciliation add to or detract from my life?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Mother’s Gift

Recently, I was involved in a dialogue with some women who did not have a relationship with their severely abusive parents. We had all assumed that the death of an abusive and estranged parent would bring some sort of relief – or closure. Sadly, the other women have subsequently lost a parent with whom they were estranged. They were surprised that contrary to feeling some relief, the death of a parent caused their anger to intensify. The death of a parent also brought the death of hope; the death of their inner child’s dreams, and the death of the last vestiges of denial.

No longer could they hold onto the fantasy that one day, their parent would acknowledge and apologize for their abuse and possibly even repair the relationship.

Once again, they found themselves mourning what could have been, but never was. They grieved at a deeper level than before. They mourned the loss of a parent they never really had and they mourned that they would never know what it was like to be grief-stricken over the loss of a loving mother or father.

I was heartbroken for these women and for anyone who has or will lose an unrepentant parent to death.

My mother gave me a huge gift. One not many people in my position receive. After fourteen years of no contact, she called me, acknowledged my abuse and apologized. I was not certain on that day about where we would go from there, but of one thing I was sure – it took a great deal of courage for Mom to call me. For that, I was grateful indeed.

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.”

Through Mom’s gesture, she participated in the healing process and provided a new level of healing and forgiving previously unavailable to me and forever unavailable to those whose abusive parent dies unrepentant.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reading My 1992 Journal

At the end of March, I thought it would be interesting to write some posts from the “that was then, this is now” perspective. I decided that when I posted a topic from my current viewpoint, I would choose a passage from my 1992 journals that represented my state of mind on the same topic then.

I only made it through one “that was then, this is now” post before I realized how much I dreaded picking up my old journals.

After that, prior to reading my journals, I had to ask myself, “Right now, do I have the emotional energy necessary to read these?”

I have found that reading the details of raw, soul-crushing events - as they happened - evokes in me a consuming sense of self-compassion.

The journals detail all sorts of harrowing events that had been partially purged through written word. My range of feelings at that point in my life was very limited. When I was injured, my emotions swung like a pendulum – either all the way to the right and numb - or all the way to the left with unmanageable anxiety and agitation. Other emotions – such as sadness were beyond my scope of experience.

Over the years, I have learned to stay present with a wide array of emotions. Today, I fully feel the sadness when I read those journals and grieve deeply for that old part of me and what she endured.

Each time I scan my words looking for passages pertinent to a current post, I find myself absorbed in old stories that I’d forgotten about. Sometimes, I read in disbelief.

Nonetheless, it isn’t the stories that are important here; it’s the process that is significant.

During the time I wrote the journals my therapist told me that I needed to get angry and mourn. I couldn’t. I had no frame of reference. Instructing me to feel powerful emotions was not enough.

I didn’t learn to process my feelings as a child. When a child is terrified, their pain can easily spin out of control. A caring parent teaches the child to modulate their pain by comforting them with love and assurance. In the safety of loving arms, a child learns to reign in their emotions. Through example, this mechanism becomes internalized in the child and they eventually learn to soothe themselves. Emotional self-soothing is a quality I lacked as a child and needed to learn to internalize for myself.

Years later, another therapist understood that I literally needed to be taught the same way a child is taught. She explained how to seek out people to receive empathic responses until I could internalize them for myself.

At first, self-compassion was forced and awkward; something I had to create space for in order to honor my feelings.

Today, self-compassion is an automatic response. I don’t experience the old feelings of anxiety and fear. Nor do I feel re-injured as I have in the past. For so long, recalling stories of past abuse continued to abuse me. The experience still felt present. Yet, the gift of authentically grieving is that my memory of the abuse no longer abuses me. Instead, I simply feel a great deal of self-compassion for the me of long ago.

I need to respect my energy level enough to ask myself, “At this moment, do I have the reserves to mourn?” If I don’t, I should save my journals for another day, but when I do, as I peel away each layer of pain, I become increasingly stronger.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mother's Day and Estrangement

Holidays are difficult for those contending with losses (See Holiday Stress)– especially those holidays that celebrate the person at the center of our loss. The symbolism of Mother’s Day can be particularly difficult for estranged mothers and daughters.

During my twenties, I shrouded myself in denial. I tried to “buy” my mother’s love by providing her a day of false praise and tribute. In the years leading up to our estrangement, I often anticipated Mother’s Day with anger or dread. I searched the rows of Hallmark Cards trying unsuccessfully to find an authentic and respectful card that said something other than “For the best Mom ever.”

During the beginning of our estrangement, I often faced Mother’s Day with ambivalence - joyful about my role as a mother and sad about my painful losses with respect to my own mom.

The holidays do get better with time. After a few years of allowing myself the space to mourn my loss, I filled my Mother’s Days by honoring my own internal mother; by sharing a joy filled day with my daughters; by honoring the women who have made a positive difference in my life, and by advocating for other motherless daughters.

In that vein, make the space to mourn your loss and to celebrate the mother in you, who nurtures herself and/or her own children: Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Forgiveness Poll

Back in March I started a 60 day poll on forgiveness. Thank you to all who participated! I love receiving your feedback.

My own feelings about forgiveness continually change:

· At one point, I wanted to forgive, but I didn’t know how.

· Then I took a stab at “forced” forgiveness – and got hurt again!

· For many years after that, I was very angry about the pressure I felt from others to forgive, because I knew that forgiveness wasn’t healthy for me at that point.

· I was so hurt, that I was sure that I would never forgive.

· Then, I decided I wouldn’t forgive unless certain conditions were met.

· After years of healing, safety (and estrangement), I was surprised to find myself “feeling” forgiving.

· I came to believe that forgiveness was a journey that may - or may not have a final destination - after adequate healing has taken place.

· Eventually, my mother called me (after 14 years of estrangement), and apologized for my abuse – this afforded me a new level of forgiveness otherwise not available without her participation.

I’ve learned to respect each necessary part of my process and the varying viewpoints I have had along the way – and to support other individual’s experiences with forgiveness and/or not forgiving. 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.

I decided to continue the poll indefinitely with my continued thanks to all who participate. Your views are most welcome! Thank You!

To date, these are the results:

Poll: How much has forgiveness played a role in your recovery from abuse:
 ·        None – I don’t think about forgiveness at all.                                 1 – 3%
·        Somewhat – Plays a small roll in my process.                                2 – 7%
·        Somewhat - I don’t want to forgive and I’m okay with that.    1 – 3%
·        Somewhat – Forgiveness is a journey and I’m comfortable     9 – 34%
with my pace.
·        Quite a bit – I’d like to forgive, but I am unable.                               1 – 3%
·        Quite a bit – I won’t forgive unless some conditions are met. 2 – 7%
·        Quite a bit – I have forgiven.                                                                            3 – 11%
·        Huge - I’ll never forgive.                                                                                      1 – 3%
·        Huge – Makes me angry. I feel damaged by pressure from      4 – 15%
others to forgive.
·        Huge – My abuser acknowledged my injuries, asked for           1 – 3%
forgiveness and I have forgiven.
·        None of the above.                                                                                                      1 – 3%

Saturday, May 3, 2008


During my growing up years, Grandma had a positive impact on my life. She gave me what all children need – she gave of herself. Quite simply, she spent time with me. Grandma stated her affection with walks on the beach and her almost eccentric, yet loveable curiosity with nature. She spent time with my brothers and me, playing cards, cooking us elaborate meals and spoiling us with treats. Grandma shared her joy of crafts and cared for us when we were ill. I treasure fond memories of my grandmother.

Yet, she refused to believe that we were abused. When the family fell apart, she became enraged with me and cut me out of her life for good. I was stunned! How could a loving grandmother reject her grandchild?

The estrangement from my grandmother left me in an awkward place with my grandfather. Grandpa suffered from dementia and Grandma was his caretaker. The day Grandma cut me out of her life, Grandpa pleaded with her to stop what she was doing.

Six years into the estrangement from my Grandmother, my Mother, and my three siblings, my Grandma died. My love and longing for her were central to me long before she died. Yet I didn’t go to the funeral. I mourned her loss and a segment of my history alone. The soul-crushing isolation caused by not attending her service left me devastated; however, I simply did not feel safe enough to be there.

When Grandma died, Grandpa was moved into a care facility. This move afforded me the opportunity to see Grandpa again each Sunday:

Grandpa was eighty-eight years old when Grandma died. The simultaneous loss of his wife and his home must have been extremely difficult for my grandfather. However, Grandpa handled his transition with enviable grace. He tempered heartfelt expressions of love and loss with positive hope for his future. I am still in awe of his constant optimistic approach to each situation without displaying a hint of displeasure.

Although I cherish many wonderful childhood memories of my grandfather – reflections of teaching me cribbage, domino's, or just talking as we walked on the beach – my most heartfelt memories are those of teaching me life’s gentle lessons.

When I was a child, Grandma, Grandpa, and his then seventy-five year old sister took my brothers and me to the Suspension Bridge in Canada. Aunt Jessie was a little unsteady as we approached the lengthy span. Grandpa took her purse in one hand and then gently slipped his other arm through hers. He very patiently and lovingly escorted his older sister across the long wobbly bridge. In the decades to come, I watched Grandpa in many such circumstances – always the gentleman, always compassionate. However, this particular memory stands out for me, because, as I waited in the distance and watched them make this long journey together, I made my first conscience realization of what sort of man my grandfather really was.

Even at ninety and suffering from severe dementia, Grandpa never lost his sense of humor. Once before Grandpa and I left a gathering at my aunt’s house, she took Grandpa by the hand to help him use the facilities. When a visiting child asked where my aunt was taking him, the room fell in awkward silence. Grandpa saved the moment with his mischievous reply, “Well, she’s taking me out back for a whoopin of course!”

I treasure the time I had with Grandpa, even as I struggled with the discomfort of watching as his life slowly slipped away. Although he reached the point that he could no longer carry on a conversation, or remember anything past the present, I was blessed with the opportunity to return the love he shared throughout a lifetime. We went on long drives, simple outings, played checkers, or to a restaurant to eat. Most often, we stayed in his room and watched TV. Even though he didn’t remember who I was – he knew he was loved. Grandpa enriched my life with a wink and a smile, with a big gripping hug, and the words in earnest, “I love you!” He provided the little connections that make life meaningful.

For more than a half-century, Grandpa occupied “his chair” – to read, to watch TV, and to watch over his family. Each week, I sat on the floor at Grandpas feet to cut and arrange new flowers for his room. I looked up at my Grandfather, and watched him – watch over me – just as he had since I was little a little girl, and I was grateful for each day I was still his granddaughter.