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

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Compassion

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.

16 comments:

Mary said...

Hi Nancy: Great post. I don't think I ever felt compassion for my mom, not in my young years, I felt hatred for what she did to me. She obviously had no compassion for me, and her word was the only. AFter I was married, she still had a hold over me, I could never talk back to her, and I until her dying day I never ever spoke back or voiced my opinion on anything, I was never allowed, so how do you show compassion for someone like that? hugsss Mary

healandforgive said...

Hi Mary,

Thank you for your comments. I think you are correct. When left to our own devices, our natural inclination is to *not* have compassion for people who are cruel to us.

Like you, my natural inclination was not to have compassion. However, when I expressed my hurt, anger, etc., over my mistreatment to my mother, she became angry with me and "complained" about me to family and friends. They in turn pressured me to stop being "selfish" and to have compassion for my mother. This had a profound effect on me from a very young age. I wanted the love of my grandmother, my brothers, and everyone else in my "world." It seemed the only way to "buy" that love was to try to "forgive, forget, and have compassion" for my mother.

Of course, it didn't work.

All my best,
Nancy

Leona said...

Nancy, I am sure many of your readers will be able to relate to "having compassion" with their abusers. Thank you for bringing insight to that which is a "normal"
feeling for the compassionate and yet some thing that needs to be worked on. There is so many layers and steps in healing, thank you for sharing your experiences.
Leona

healandforgive said...

Hi Leona,

So true. There are very many layers to our healing process.

Many blessings to you on your continued journey,

Nancy

jumpinginpuddles said...

surviving is just that, understanding your empowerment is the journey to healing.
I saw your blog title and went oh great here we go but have bene interested althoguh not all you say i wil lagree with your blog title healandforgive does not give you due credit.

Tamara said...

Nancy,

Thank you - I needed to hear that! I get so confused about where I am on the whole issue of compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation with my parents. I think I have it figured out and then something happens and it all gets flipped around again.

My mother recently found out I had moved, obtained my phone number and called and left a hateful message on my voicemail. I have not spoken to my parents in 2 1/2 years. They initiated the estrangement but I have kept it going because they have not admitted or apologized for anything and are still abusive. But, it is so easy to go into hating myself for not speaking to them, to feel like I should be the bigger person and I do have compassion for them. They truly seem to not understand that, even though they have driven 4 or their 5 children out of their lives, they are the problem. I don't want to hurt them. I just want to be safe and heal. Then my anger kicks in when she leaves a nasty message. If she was going to call then why not leave at least a civil message?

Sorry, I am rambling. Guess the net net is - I had really thought that maybe I could heal enough that contact with them would be okay someday. Now, I am thinking that may not be possible because they are not changing and are actually becoming more entrenched in their nastiness. This breaks my heart for them and me. The feelings of I am a bad person because I am considering never speaking to my parents again are just under the surface and ready to bubble up when I am having a weak moment.

Hope that all makes sense.

Thanks for the post, Nancy.
Tamara

healandforgive said...

Hi ((Tamara)),

Yes, this makes perfect sense. I too, wrestled back and forth with the confusion of feeling angry and compassionate.

I’m sorry your mother "tracked you down" just to leave an angry message. It is heartbreaking for me to hear that you think you are a "bad person" for not wanting to talk to them again. You are NOT a bad person for choosing self-preservation! I think we have a responsibility to protect ourselves and care for our own well-being first. Our parents should have cared for us when we are children, thereby teaching us to care for ourselves. We have to learn to care for ourselves even though we have been taught the opposite.

We can have compassion for our parents from "afar."

Warmly,
Nancy

healandforgive said...

Jumpinginpuddles,

Thank you for stopping by and for your comments.

I've read some of your blogs and I greatly admire your courage!

My best,
Nancy

Strong & determined said...

Hi Nancy,

Once again, I enjoyed your insightful post. I am wondering if your friend really felt compassion for her mother, or if her response to her mother is something she has learned over the years. I think when we are abused, we definitely learn that if I do "this" (whatever "this" is) - then they will love me...then I will finally have that love and closeness I have been craving. The reality we come to much later in life is that we can never be comapassionate enough or give enough to these parents because they are not capable of giving us what we most need - unconditional love and acceptance.
Rebecca

J-ME said...

"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."
Nancy, this caught my eye.....

About 20 years ago, I thought I had "recovered". I thought I was a "survivor", an "overcomer" even. But then something happened a few years ago, and I find myself back to dealing with past issues. this time anger erupted. I want validation. I want to be able to speak without judgement, without condemnation, without expectations. I want to be loved for me - not what I can offer. Perhaps forgiveness was a little premature. Perhaps I still have steps I need to go through. I'm not sure what. It's been a blessing to find others who are traveling the road with me.

healandforgive said...

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for clearly stating this concept. Yes, I agree. My friend and I had a similar conversation to this.

All my best,
Nancy

healandforgive said...

Dear J-ME,

Thank you for sharing this with me. I can relate to what you are saying. I’ve had the set-backs that you speak of.

I think we all need validation and need to be loved for who we are, without judgment. When we don’t receive these emotional necessities it’s like being starved. When we do receive them, it’s like a warm blanket on a cold day.

I’ve had the opportunity to go back and work through my anger, and grief with the support of validating people in my life who gave me the opportunity to re-do my work in an authentic fashion. I believe you will too.

All my best,
Nancy

Strong & determined said...

Nancy,

I'm sorry. I just realized that in my comments, I was reiterating what you had already said so beautifully in your post. I hope as time goes by I will heal well enough to be able to look at things with as much clarity as you do.
Rebecca

healandforgive said...

Dear Rebecca,

No need to apologize. Your validation was soothing for me. I also enjoy reading someone else’s words on the same topic that add to the clarity. So, thank you again. I very much enjoyed your comments.

Warmly,
Nancy

Tamara said...

Nancy,

Thank you for understanding. It is ironic that my parents are the abusers yet I feel for them and don't want them to hurt because of me. (Most of the time, that is, when I am angry that changes temporarily.) So, I am here with my heart hurting for them and yet they don't hurt for me. They hurt for themselves and what they perceive I have done to them because I won't continue to have a dysfunctional relationship with them.

I just don't see reconciliation as an option as long as they can only hurt for themselves and not begin to understand or care about my pain.

It is all just so sad!

Tamara

healandforgive said...

“It is ironic that my parents are the abusers yet I feel for them”

I think that is because you an empathic human being, which is a quality that is generally lacking in those who abuse. It is great that you have a good heart. Just be cautious about who you give it to.

Warmly,
Nancy