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, February 26, 2009

Standing in the Truth

Truth-telling is an important part of the healing process. Yet, "standing in the truth" requires some preliminary healing and a great deal of support.

Recently, I had an online conversation with someone about healing from abuse, estrangement, and reconciliation. In the course of the conversation we talked about "standing in the truth" - the point in our healing process when we are able to confidently speak the truth and reclaim our lives.

From Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation:

Chapter Five

Standing in the Truth

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

-Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from
the Birmingham jail, April 16, 1963

Breaking the cycle of abuse is one of the most important undertakings I have attempted in my lifetime. I knew that breaking the cycle would take more than not seeing my mother. Living a new life required healing, understanding my mother, our family dynamic and myself, if I wanted a better life for my children and me.

Long into adulthood, I was drawn to my mother, craving and searching for her love. Although rebellion was often my mainstay, on a certain level, I accepted my mother's blame, denial and the minimization of my abuse. Yet, during therapy, I pondered how I would react if someone threw one of my children down a flight of cement stairs. The thought of anyone hurting one of my kids horrified me. Although difficult, turning the corner from internalizing blame to accepting
my mother's responsibility freed me from denial. Once freed, I began to speak the truth and to realize that I was justifiably angry. I knew I was angry; but, for the first time, I gave myself permission to be angry. My anger helped me give voice to my experiences. Standing in the truth was a positive move towards breaking the cycle of abuse.

I suffered a huge price for standing in the truth. Taking a stand against abuse is not possible without breaking the silence and exposing injustice. Therein lies the biggest obstacle to creating an abuse free family legacy.

Truth telling is an uphill climb for the victim/survivor. In an abusive family, the rest of the family often condemns the family member who "breaks the silence" and tells the family secret.

Silence aids the abuser and shields him or her from accountability. Silence maintains "status quo" for the rest of the family. Silence is easy; silence requires no action; breaking the silence, however, requires strength and unimaginable loss. I have since learned that an abuser will normally do everything within his or her power to keep the victim, survivor, professional, or other bystander silent. When the perpetrator fails to maintain silence, he or she will resort to discrediting the victim or bystander with persuasive arguments. Like many survivors, I found myself ostracized and alone. The spectators remained silent.

Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., describes this occurrence in her book Trauma and Recovery (New York: Basic Books, 1997) p.7:

It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of the pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.

It is my experience that people don't want to believe the victim. There is something in us that wants to disassociate from the truth. We don't want to taint ourselves with the horrible acts committed by individuals that we care about in our families and our communities. Human nature is to deny the truth, protect our illusions and avoid unpleasantness.

Victims who try to break the cycle of violence by themselves usually face retaliation on top of abuse.

For twenty-five years, since the age of ten, I stood alone in the truth about my family. In the years since the loss of my sacred childhood, I thought I was alone in this experience. Unfortunately, mine is not an isolated experience. There are thousands of survivors, such as myself standing alone in the truth about our families.

The appearance of normalcy and safeguarding the family secret takes precedence over everything else. THE SECRET is more important than the victim. THE SECRET is more important than health, happiness, family or relationships.

Had I known the price I would pay, the losses I would incur, and the isolation I would feel for simply telling the truth, I would have thought twice. However, the truth always has a way of coming out - if not in this generation, in the next.

I didn't understand the power of THE SECRET. I wish I knew then that my resolve to speak the truth about my family would be tested time and again.

I loved my mother. I didn't want to hurt my mom, but I wanted her to love me too. I didn't know that when I told the big family secret, I would have to choose between my mother and the truth. Still I told the truth.

I worried that my family wouldn't love me if I broke my silence, but in the end, I didn't believe they would all abandon me either. I didn't know that one by one I'd have to choose between my three brothers, my grandmother and the truth. Still, I told the truth.

Life has a way of asking:

  • Will you tell the truth even when the perpetrator retaliates?
  • Will you continue to tell the truth even when the offender convinces family and friends that you are "crazy," that you lie, that the abuse is your fault, or that it is all in the past?
  • Will you tell the truth when one by one; family members and friends sever their relationships with you?
  • Will you still stand in the truth when you find yourself standing alone?

Copyright © 2008 Nancy Richards. All Rights Reserved.


Anonymous said...

So well written, Nancy. Congratulations on your resolute and courageous stance. But you are not alone in the truth, for everyone who reads your words and is moved by them stands with you. All the best, Pamela

healandforgive said...


Thank you very much for your heart-felt words!


Marj aka Thriver said...

Yes, have been and will continue to do so on all those counts. Hhmmmm...interesting. One of my mother's favorite lines was always "Let's not have any unpleasantness." Ha!

You know you must have ESP or something; this post is exactly what RR was talking about for the upcoming blog carnival. I hope you submitted this post to her. Very well written!

healandforgive said...

Thanks Marj,

It is so sad that our parents don't consider the abuse itself as "unpleasantness," but only the speaking of it.


Enola said...

Wow - how profound. Very well written. But you aren't standing alone -- all the rest of us survivors are holding your hand.

healandforgive said...

Thanks Enola :)

Marj aka Thriver said...

Nancy: Your response to my comment above is so perfectly well-stated. "...only the speaking of it." How true!

Thank you so much for allowing us to include this post in The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

healandforgive said...

Marj: Thank You! I so appreciate and respect your passion and dedication to the survivor community! You Rock! :)

Colleen said...

Thanks for this. I am going thru this right now. I plan to post on it soon. God bless.

healandforgive said...

Thanks Collen!

Stay strong! Standing in the truth takes courage, but you are not alone!

God Bless you too!

tentmaker said...

no, actually i can't stand alone. it's good to know that some people can.

healandforgive said...

Hi Tentmaker,

Thank you for your comment. For nearly two decades, I wasn't able to stand alone either.....we can only take on so much pain at once....

Stay Strong!