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

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Stages of Blame...

...for me at least:

1) Self-Blame
2) Blaming the Perpetrator
3) Reclaiming and Taking Responsibility for my life - Moving from Victim to Survivor

1) Self- Blame: For me, stage one lasted the longest; more than twenty years. Sometimes, I still mourn for the little girl who felt suffocated under the load of blame and shame; hopelessness and betrayal.

Ever since childhood, I internalized my mothers blame, denial and the minimization of my abuse. Other family members and bystanders contributed to my feelings of shame as well. Sometimes, self-blame manifested itself by my arguing to be heard and defensiveness. Finally, during a therapy session at the age of 35, 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 it was difficult, I turned the corner from internalizing blame to accepting my mothers responsibility for my abuse.

2) Blaming the Perpetrator: This stage also lasted a long time; approximately ten years. I placed the responsibility for my childhood abuse squarely where it belonged - on my abusers.

This ten year period was a time of huge growth for me. I was freed from my denial and had the opportunity to really examine my abuse and the effect it had on my life. I expressed my anger, I mourned my losses and learned to love the little girl of long ago.

3) Reclaiming and Taking Responsibility for my life - Moving from Victim to Survivor:

Self-blame was an unfortunate by-product of abuse. Blaming the abuser was an important and necessary shift in the recovery process. Armed with the reality of the facts, I was able to set a healing foundation to safeguard my own well being. At that point in my recovery- how my psyche became damaged, wasn't as important to me as how I was going to move forward to the life I deserved. I realized that the only one who could take responsibility for my life was me!

Moving past the blame was a huge relief for me. It gave me control over my own life and felt very empowering. This doesn't mean that I have erased from my mind that my abusers are responsible for my abuse. On the contrary. It means that no longer "obsess" about the blame, but rather take responsible for my life today!

I went through a similar process with my family estrangement: Self-blame and defensiveness; blaming my family; and then taking responsibility for my own life.

What a relief. My family no longer has control over my life!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why Isn't it Okay to Be Angry?

Most everyone says it is good to express our feelings; happy, glad, sad, fear, affection, guilt, shame, grief, courage, respect, hope...and then there is the dreaded - anger!

Lately, many people have said to me, "Why does everyone tell me that I shouldn't be angry? That makes me even angrier!"

Since so many people have talked to me recently about their struggles with anger, I thought I would re-post one of the very first posts I wrote when I began blogging.

Dealing with Anger

Anger corrodes... Forgive and forget... Negativity is harmful to your health... These often-heard statements usually instill a sense of urgency that implies that we should "get over it" immediately.

For many years, I was so frightened to admit that I was angry that I tried to pretend I was not.
I continued to allow my abuse while I worked at suppressing my anger. Eventually, I felt little else but simmering resentment. Without receiving validation that I had a right to my feelings, my anger remained stuffed inside and unresolved.

Anger has its place. It took me a long time to realize that I needed to embrace my anger. Not forever, but long enough to respect a healthy sort of rage over what had happened to me. My anger provided a tool for protecting myself from further harm, and a springboard from which to heal.

Although my mom abused and betrayed me, I felt very conflicted about her. She hurt me deeply, and nevertheless I loved my mother. I loved her and I was angry with her.

People are often uncomfortable with anger and therefore advise us that it isn't good to be angry. Their well-meaning advice proved to be a great disservice to me.

It wasn't until I did receive validation from other people that I found appropriate ways to discharge my rage, protect myself, and move past my anger. I gave myself permission to be constructively angry - to use my irritation as an aid in moving forward - until the hurt no longer felt present. It is important to honor the depth of our injuries as a way of moving past the pain.

Finding methods to diffuse my resentment wasn't easy. Solitary anger exercises were not effective for me. I tried techniques such as writing an angry letter and ceremoniously burning it. Still my anger remained.

Expressing my anger in the company of trusted confidantes was very helpful. Dark humor like "bad mother" jokes helps for me as well. Participating with friends in interactive exercises gave me the sense of not being alone, and validated that I had a right to my anger. I am certain that what makes seemingly unbearable pain bearable, is the ability of another to hold our pain. They held my pain and helped me move past my rage.

There is an important distinction between - a) perpetuating anger by raging at the individuals who harmed us, and - b) discharging anger in safe environments apart from the individuals who caused the harm.

Bringing my injuries "into the light" and acknowledging my anger in the safety of supportive individuals brought me emotional freedom, and a measure of peace.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Love Ya Award

Thank you to Colleen at Surviving by Grace for giving me The LOVE YA award: “These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

If you've won it already, and I know a few of you have, even more than once! - please just accept this as a gift!
Thanks to the following for blessing us with your openness in sharing your journey:

1. Tamara at Desire to Heal who shares an unquenchable and successful desire to heal herself and support others survivors.

2. Michelle at Parasites of the Mind who is not only an amazingly supportive blogger - she is the "go to gal" for everything PTSD.

3. Marj at Survivors Can Thrive - to me, Marj is the heart and soul of the survivor blogging community, tying us all together.

4. Just Be Real who makes sure every blogger knows they are not alone!

5. Patricia at Spiritual Journey of a Lightworker who sheds a hopeful, spiritual light on recovery.

6. Mile191 - at Come into my Closet - who shares her riveting voice and "soaks up" her recovery within a wide community of survivors.

7. Faith Allen of Blooming Lotus - for her heart-felt vulnerability within a wide range of topics that question, inform and investigate all aspects of recovery.

8. Enola who gives us a clear window into suvivorship by beautifully sharing so many aspects of her life.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Finding a Therapist

Finding a therapist can be a frighting undertaking for adult survivors of childhood abuse.

Someone recently asked me how I found good therapists:

After a couple of bad therapeutic experiences, I learned that it was essential for me to find a therapist who specialized in recovery from severe childhood abuse/trauma.

But how?

I've used three avenues to find a professional specializing in abuse recovery:

1) Community referral - My aunt is a therapist (non trauma issues). She has been a good source to find "highly recommended" trauma recovery therapists where I live. If you know of a therapist with an excellent reputation in another area of analysis (or know someone else who does) ask if they can refer you to someone well known in the field of trauma recovery.

I have given referrals to other survivors in my area for therapists who have been helpful to me. If you know other survivors in your area, this would be a good resource.

2) Local University Psychology Department/Hospital Trauma Department referrals.
This is another successful avenue I have used.

3) Insurance Company Referrals. If you have medical insurance with "mental health" coverage, they may be able to recommend a professional who deals with trauma recovery.

Next: The Interview

I ask a list of questions pertinent to me:

1) What is your background and education?
2) What types of clients to you see?
3) Describe how you see the therapeutic relationship?
4? What are the recovery principles you adhere to and methods you use and why?
5) Are you comfortable with strong emotions, i.e..denial, anger, terror, etc...
6) How would you solve a situation if one of your own personal issues clouded your objectivity with mine?

I ask this question because once, during therapy, I told my therapist that I thought he'd lost his objectivity. He said, "You're right. We are in an area where my personal issues have clouded my judgment and frankly, I don't think I can get it back."

While I was grateful for his honesty, I was sad that I had to find another therapist. I was also afraid that if I invested a great deal of time and energy in a new therapist, I could have to start all over again from scratch.

My new counselor told me that it is not uncommon for a therapist's issues to become "tangled" up with a client during the therapeutic process - especially as we delve very deep. Therapy is an emotional journey and they are only human.

He did say however, that when this happens, it is a wonderful opportunity for the therapist to do "their own work." This could mean, one of many things:

  1. The therapist didn't know he or she was "reacting" from his or her own issues until the client pointed out that something was "amiss" and is then able to make a quick adjustment.
  2. The therapist could have an open discussion with the client and "own" their stuff.
  3. The therapist may feel this issue is substantial enough to seek individual help (apart from the client) from another therapist.
  4. Or even have a third-party therapist help "untangle" the issue between the therapist and the client (if this is a longstanding relationship that "hit a bump."

In any case, I want to know "up front" how the therapist would handle this sort of situation. To say it couldn't happen would be a red flag for me.

Next: Establishing the Relationship

1) Trust - this is a huge issue for survivors. As I said, after a couple of bad therapeutic experiences and a lifetime of family abuse and betrayal, trust was a big issue for me. When I met with my first "abuse recovery therapist," I flat out told him, "I don't trust!" He said, "That's okay, we'll build trust!" He was right.

2) As we get to know one another, I ask myself, "Am I comfortable with this person?"

3) I'm looking for someone who listens well, asks questions, suggests exercises, and offers examples of psychological theory to consider, rather than giving answers or telling me what I should do.

4) Validation. To me, a good therapist can validate my feelings, "bear witness" to my trauma, and ask thought provoking questions that invite growth.

5) A good therapist provides a safe environment to discharge anger and other strong emotions.

6) A good therapist provides a safe environment for me to talk about my experiences without fear of blame or judgment. Nor will he/she try to "rescue" me from my pain - but allow me to be "present" with my feelings in order to learn to deal with them.

7) A good therapist has good personal boundaries.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The April Edition of The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

is up at childabusesurvivor. Mike is hosting a huge edition this month with a wide array of inspiring topics!

Check it out!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

A reader recently asked me if I would share some qualities that I came to understand were "red-flags" for unhealthy relationships vs. qualities of healthy relationships.

Wow! Tough question.

For many years, it was difficult for me to discern what was and was not healthy for me. Even after considerable healing there were many times that I felt "triggered" even if the other person was behaving in a healthy manner. For example, if another person held a matriarchal role in my life, or other such circumstances that triggered old unsafe childhood feelings, I couldn't differentiate between whether my present situation was unsafe, or I was experiencing old unhealed wounds.

Conversely, sometimes someone was behaving in a manner that was injurious to me and I failed to recognize the behavior because I was still wired to treat myself the way my mother treated me. I argued and "engaged" rather than protecting myself.

Today, I believe that I am responsible to safeguard my own well-being. So, some of my red flags are about me.

I'm sure there are many relationship/friendship "red-flags," however, these are the warning signs that are most pertinent to me:

1. Boundary Issues: Do they maintain their own healthy boundaries? Do they respect boundaries in others? Do they have enmeshment issues? It has only been the last few years that I've learned to consistently maintain clear, respectful, boundaries. Everyone needs to take responsibilities for their own boundaries; yet, a red flag for me, is if I need to spend an inordinate amount of time guarding those boundaries.

2. Blaming: Someone who takes no personal responsibility for his or her own actions or problems, but rather blames me or others.

3. Unrealistic Expectations: Expects me to meet all of his or her needs, and/or tries to move the relationship along too quickly.

4. Dishonesty, Betrayal: Because I was betrayed in my most basic relationships, it took me years to realize that I actually betrayed myself when I accepted betrayal as a part of my relationships.

5. Lack of Compassion, empathy, or inability to connect with others: I have to be very careful with this one. I grew up without any compassion or empathy. As an adult, I needed to learn a healthy balance between 1) learning to provide my own self-compassion, rather than a dependence on others to solely meet this need, and 2) recognizing when someone lacks empathy, compassion, or connectedness.

6. Critical, Demeaning, or disrespectful: If I don't recognize these qualities right away, they can slowly chip away at my self-esteem.

7. Controlling, Bossy, Demanding: Big red flag!

8. Poor conflict resolution skills.

9. Poor self-esteem: Boastful; needs his or her ego fed at the expense of others and/or places his or her needs above everyone else.

10. Crazy-making, ceaseless arguments. This is two-fold for me. It is a red flag about the other person if they need to be "right"all the time (i.e. facts or circumstances). Although feelings have no right or wrong, it is also a red flag about me if I find myself engaging in ceaseless arguments looking for understanding about my feelings. It took me a long time to learn not to engage, but rather stand confidently in my own experience.

Healthy qualities would be the opposite:

1. Maintains his or her own boundaries; respects boundaries in others.
2. Accepts responsibility for his or her own problems and actions.
3. Able to meet his or her own needs as well as share in each others lives.
4. Honest and open.
5. Displays an appropriate degree of compassion, empathy, and understanding.
6. Loving, respectful, dignified, focus's on positives rather than negatives
7. Mutual problem solving
8. Good, calm, listening and communication skills
9. Good self esteem: Self-respectful, humble, and is respectful of others needs.
10. Places relationships ahead of need to be right, and/or can stand confidently in own experience.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spending Time With My Nieces and Nephews

Yesterday, I spent spent the afternoon at the Children's Museum with my youngest brother, his wife, and their four children, ages 8 months, 2, 3, and 4 years old. What a treat! We had loads of indescribable fun.

One of the many losses incurred with family estrangement is the loss of the children involved. When I became estranged from my family of origin, my two daughters were thirteen and ten. My oldest brothers children were approximately ten, eight, and four. Fourteen years later, when I reconciled with my family, all of these children were grown.

My youngest brother had two children at the time we reconciled. His son was two years old and his daughter was one.

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. My first reunion with my youngest brother and his family was at an outdoor dinner theater for a production of Annie. 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. Yet, they were adorable and the play mesmerized them with child-like wonder.

In the two and a half years since our reconciliation, I have had the opportunity to share in the birth of two more of his children, birthdays, baptisms, and other special events.

My middle brother (who lives out of state) had three children during our estrangement. They are still quite young, and although I don't see them very often, it is wonderful to get to share in their lives.

My brother's children are bundles of energy - full of rambunctious excitement and laughter. With my own children grown, I delight in sharing occasional childhood events. For instance, visiting the zoo through a child's eyes, full of innocence and wonder. The energy and enthusiasm they exude retelling childhood experiences at school, with friends, or at dance class amuses me.

Reconciliations are hard work filled with many conflicting emotions, risks, and rewards. As time marches on, it gets easier and easier to simply enjoy.

Estrangement Polls

I'm starting two polls on the reasons for family estrangement.

If you don't see the cause of your estrangement on the polls, please add a comment to this post. Blogger doesn't allow changes to a poll once voting has begun, but I will manually add it into the results when voting is done.

I've been in contact with many people who are estranged from family members and desperately wish to reunite. Often, they question why their loved ones wish to remain apart and are left to wonder "What happened?"

Estrangements are complicated. I believe that often, the reasons for estrangement have been building for years until one incident seems to have caused the rift. Usually our perceptions of why the estrangement happened are different from our family members. Estrangements are like icebergs - we only see the tip - yet the complicated dynamics are hidden far below the surface, often beyond our emotional comprehension.

In my own estrangement for instance, although family violence was the clear reason for me, each one of my family members thought the reasons for estrangement were completely different.

Thanks for your input!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sometimes, We Must Die to the Old to be Born to the New

My minister once told me that we experience many "resurrections" in our lives as we "die to the old" and are "born to the new."

She told me this as I was facing a devastating loss. Standing on the threshold between the known and the unknown was frightening, even though I knew that the known was harmful to me.

I died to the old when I became estranged from my entire family of origin. That death brought on the birth of my new "family of choice." I experienced growing pains with my new family as it began in its infancy, toddled on through adolescence, and eventually arrived fully grown.

It was hard to give up on my dream of a healthy, abuse-free, family of origin, but self-preservation prevailed. I chose survival. After years of rebuilding my life, I realized that my new "family" was more supportive, loving, nurturing and fulfilling than any of my prior dreams or experiences.

Fourteen years later, I died to the old when I became open to new realities - even when they contradicted the past - and the reconciliation with my family of origin was born.

I've experienced many such deaths and births on my journey from abuse and estrangement to surviving and thriving. Each "death" was frightening. It required taking a leap of faith into the unknown, hard work, loss, pain, healing, learning, growing, and stretching:

  • The death of denial - the birth of awareness.
  • The death of accepting mistreatment - the birth of self- love and safe-guarding my own well-being.
  • The death of accepting betrayal - the birth of self-respect.
  • The death of looking outward to have my needs met - the birth of looking inward to satisfy my own needs.
  • The death of brokenness - the birth of healing.

With growth comes loss, but eventually, healing and freedom. Birthing is always difficult, but well worth the reward.