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, 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.