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, July 25, 2009

Did That Just Happen?

I can't count the number of times I found myself on the receiving end of some sort of physical or emotional violence only to have my mother (or other family members) "pretend" nothing happened.

As a child, I sometimes questioned my sanity: Did that just happen?

As a young adult, the "pretending" made me angry.

As both a child and a young adult, I used to walk on eggshells around my mother. I never knew when she would unleash a rampage: cursing, yelling, belittling, blaming, etc. Then, the next time I'd see her she'd greet me with a big smile and the words, "Hi honey!" like nothing ever happened. It was crazy-making stuff!

I know I'm not alone in this experience. A common complaint I hear from other adult abuse survivors who are trying to maintain or re-establish contact with a family member is that of contending with a tirade over the phone, by e-mail, or in person only to have their family member act as if nothing happened the next time around.

While it is true that "pretending" can be rooted in some sort of sociopathy (no conscious), I don't think that is always the case. I believe that many abusers have a conscious but don't regard their behavior as abusive.

I read something once that said that human beings can't bear the thought that we have done something horrible, because if we did, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves. Our tortured conscious requires us to take some sort of action to resolve our inner turmoil. We have a couple of choices:

A) We can help the other individual by repairing the damage we've done. This also helps us by easing our conscious. However, many people don't have the strength, courage, awareness, or emotional capability to repair the damage; so, they choose plan B.

B) We can ease our conscious by convincing ourselves that what we did wasn't so bad (or was justified) and then banish it from our mind like it didn't happen.

In other words, when it comes to abuse's and someone "pretends," it didn't happen, there isn't anything we can do to "make" them acknowledge the offenses. If they can't "repair" it - they have to "ignore" it.

My mother definitely has a conscious. For years, I tried to plead to her conscious to do the "right" thing. To me, reparation seemed like an easy thing to do - acknowledge, apologize, don't do it again . It took a great deal of time for me to wrap my head around the concept that no amount of explaining or pleading would result in acknowledgment. She didn't know how to "repair" the damage (or change her behavior), so her conscious wouldn't allow her to accept that she did something horrible.

Sixteen years ago, amidst continued family violence, the less healed me wasn't able to safe-guard my own well being, or that of my children. At the time, my only choice was estrangement. For some people, persistent physical and emotional violence continues to prohibit any safe contact. However, in my case, time changed some of the dynamics in my family. And, our fourteen years apart afforded me enough healing (and validation from others), that I was able to heal my past trauma without my mothers acknowledgment of the "specifics." I also learned to keep myself out of harms way in the present by setting and maintaining clear, respectful boundaries.

Thus far, the "pretending" issue hasn't come up again, but if it does, I know there is nothing I can do except safe-guard my own well-being.


Anonymous said...

my mother has always justified such conduct as just "mother/daughter stuff". well i see it differently and because of that i can't be around her. the abusive behavior and then next time like you say,"hi honey". abuse is not going to be a part of any relationships i have anymore. even if it means not seeing that person at all. and sadly for me, my mother is in a nursing home not far from me and i haven't seen her since september because i decided i can't be in a relationship with ANYONE where abuse is going to be a component of our being together. the pain and guilt is terrible. but to be in a relationship with my mother means a level of abuse is going to have to be tolerated and i won't tolerate ANY level of abuse anymore. from her or anyone else.

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

I have found that some people "mellow with age," and others do not. I’m sorry your mother seems to fall into the latter category.

Many of us reach a point in time where self-preservation kicks in and we say, "Enough is enough!"

In spite of the pain and guilt, sadly, sometime we must choose the lesser of two evils.

Warm regards,

Pat Crosby said...

Wow, Nancy!

You have so much valuable information on your website! I am reading - just spellbound.

I don't know if you like to include links to other sites... I am guided to offer a free online ForGIVEness meditation at

You are welcome to pass it on your readers if you like, and link it as a resource on your site.

Blessings... and with gratitude for all you are doing.


Pat Crosby

Cat said...

I have no idea how I stumbeled acrross your page today but I am grateful to have found you.

You talk of things I am familiar with, having had a mother who would physically and mentally and emotionally abuse me, her middle child and then act as if the problem was all in my head...

It took a lot of time and growing up to understand she cannot change and i am still working on the resentment of being the only child singled out at her hands in that manner...

healandforgive said...

Hi Cat!

Thanks for stopping by!

Being the only child "singled" out for certain abuses does carry a long lasting sting (I'm the middle child as well, and the only girl. Unfortunately for me, my mother doesn't like girls).

It took me a long time to work through my resentment as well. I don't think we can speed up the process. At a certain point, I realized that my being singled out was about my mother's dysfunction and had nothing to do with me. This knowledge certainly doesn't change the past, but it did help me after a great deal of healing.

All my best,

Anonymous said...

Amazing...are you sure your mother and mine aren't sisters?

Mine is still vicious at 87! Most of her venom is directed at me as I'm a) too much like my spineless father; b)I live in the same town and don't jump at her every demand; c)I've become a Christian which is equivalent in her mind to being a total wimp and loser and d) I'm not one of the favorite children.

Whenever I stand up to her she is quick to accuse me of being a bad Christian and doesn't realize that one can be a Christian and still refuse to take abuse from someone.

She is lucky I take the commandment to honor one's mother seriously or I would have cut her out of my life 20+ years ago!

I have gone to therapy because of her and all the other family dynamics (that's a whole other letter!)and even the counsellor said she had a lot of issues...that may be an understatement!

Anyway, it is so good to know that there are others out there that know where I'm coming from! I grew up thinking my family was normal until I got older and met more functional families and have come to realize (I'm now 50) that my family was seriously troubled.

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for sharing a bit of your story. I'm glad you have found a bit of validation here. It is always nice to know we are not alone with our experience.

BTW: I have a post you might be interested in titled, Honor Thy Mother and Father?:

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your quick is a Godsend to find out that I'm not "wrong" for how I feel!

I am wondering if you could share with me your opinion on this ongoing issue in my family? My older sister is dying of cancer and at this same time so is my brother who molested her and I when we were young. Now the rest of the family is putting extreme pressure on me to visit him as I need "to let bygones be". When I confronted him years ago and told him he was not welcome in my life until he admitted he'd done wrong to my sisters & me and got some counselling, he'd refused as he "was sorry that I had such a problem with what he'd done"! Note how it was turned into being my issue? Anyway, everyone is mad at me not going to see him (except my other sister who was also molested but the family is leaving her alone because she is too sick to travel). I was thinking of being nice and sending him a card but with all this pressure I am thinking I don't want to do anything! Your thoughts?

healandforgive said...

Dear Anonymous,

What a horrible situation!

My deepest sympathy regarding your sisters illness.

Unfortunately, family members often pressure the victim/survivor to just "get over it."

Judith Lewis Herman, MD, sums it up nicely 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.

Since you don't have the support of your family, if it were me, I would tell my family members that the relationship between me and my brother IS between me and my brother. Period. The topic is off limits.

Of course, our greatest opportunity for healing comes when the perpetrator is willing to take part in the healing process; however, when they are unwilling or unable to do so, the onus is on us to find a way to heal.

Whether we chose to see a healthy or dying perpetrator is up to each individual. We need to do whatever feels the healthiest for us.

Even Abraham Lincoln was faced with this situation. He took a great deal of flack for his stance; however, when he received word that his abusive father was dying, he sent the following letter to his brother:

Dear Brother,

I sincerely hope father may recover his health; but at all events, tell him to call upon and confide in our great and good merciful Maker, who will not turn away from him in any extremity. He notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs on our heads, and He will not forget the dying man, who puts his trust in Him. Say to him if that if we could meet now it is doubtful whether it would not be more painful than pleasant, but that if it be his lot to go now he will soon have a joyous meeting with many loved ones gone before, and where the rest of us, through the help of God, hope ere long to join him.

Write to me again when you receive this.

A. Lincoln

Ultimately, whether you chose to send a card or must do what you believe will be best for you in the long run.

Stay strong!

BeautifulOne said...

Wow, that sounds like my Mom. I don't know how a person can be so sweet and on a tirade the next.

I have just begun my healing journey and I am so glad to have found your site.

healandforgive said...

Hi BeautifulOne,

I love your name. What a great "homebase" for a healing journey.

I'm glad you found me. I hope you find the sharing of my journey helpful!

Stay strong,