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, January 26, 2008

Loving Voices

Long into my family estrangement, the negative comments from my past continued to visit on the present. Sometimes, they played like a repetitive loop. Other times, a certain event triggered the voices of anger, blame, and rejection. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head: You are bad. You are sick. You are crazy. You single handedly destroyed our family.

I could feel myself shrinking and feeling small.

It is easy to get stuck. Even though we no longer had a relationship, I continued to yearn for my mother’s love and approval. I wanted her to replace the ugly voices in my head with new loving voices. I wanted her to accept responsibility for what she had done.

It’s easy to become seduced by our longing to receive support from the one place that it isn’t available. I knew I had to take responsibility for my own healing and to find support where it was available.

Over a period of many years, I developed a loving community of encouragement. With the aid of loving people in my life, I worked on healing myself by replacing the old unhealthy internal messages, feelings and responses, with new healthy internal messages, feelings and responses.

Slowly over time, I began tipping the scale from the negative to the positive.

As survivors, we need help changing the majority voice we hear in our heads - from that of our abusers – to that of love, so that we can heal, mourn, and move on with our lives.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Fresh Start with Sallie Felton - Update

Tomorrow, I will be a guest on A Fresh Start with Sallie Felton. 

Wish me luck!


My thanks to Sallie for an enjoyable interview. Anyone interested in listening to a recording of our live interview can do so from the archives of "A FRESH START" with SALLIE FELTON.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Forgiveness and Justice

A few months ago, I heard Marianne Williamson interview Immaculee Ilibagiza on XM radio. Immaculle Ilibagiza is the author of Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. Ms. Ilibagiza gave a fascinating interview, humbly describing the details of her survival and provided a courageous model for overcoming injustice.

Her words, “To me, I think justice is part of forgiving” were very validating.

She noted that although she had forgiven the man who murdered her entire family, that didn’t mean that she thought he should be freed from jail. On the contrary, she thought that he should be held responsible for his actions and prevented from harming others.

In an excerpt from Heal and Forgive:

“Often I have witnessed humanities disbelief when a relative forgives a loved ones’ murder. “How can you forgive murder?” is our collective outcry.

I have come to understand that forgiveness is not necessarily predicated on the degree of the offence but rather on the justice we receive. In other words – did the murderer go to trial? Did the community acknowledge the offence?

I have found that in general – those who forgive crimes of violence – have seen some sort of justice. Not revenge. Simply justice.

For victims of childhood violence, receiving justice is often not the case. Rarely do child abusers see the inside of a courtroom and rarer still do they admit their offences.

How do we forgive something that in the eyes of our community did not happen?”

Another element that justice provides is a balance of power. Long into adulthood, I continued to stand before my mother still a damaged child. As long as I viewed her as more powerful than I was, how could I even consider forgiveness?

I longed for my mother to acknowledge my abuse, to apologize, and to change her abusive behavior. Isn’t that another way of asking her to relinquish her power?

Because my mother was unwilling to do these things, I found it necessary to empower myself, and safeguard my own well-being. This involved seeking justice in a community of support to help me protect myself, receive acknowledgment from other individuals, express my anger appropriately, mourn my losses and to heal. I needed to heal and balance the power before I could even consider forgiveness.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


My motherlessness came as the result of years of abuse, betrayal, rejection, and finally a fourteen-year estrangement. During our time apart, I realized that whether I had a relationship with my mom or not – I was motherless - and I mourned the loss of the mother she could have been - but was not.

Our separation did protect me from further injury and was essential for healing from my abuse. Nonetheless, after I had largely healed from my mistreatment, the pain of estrangement remained.

Estrangement is an unnatural loss. Whereas death is “an act of God,” estrangement - or the need to estrange - feels like the ultimate rip-off. Oh how I wished my mother would acknowledge my abuse, apologize and become a loving mother.

With death, we have to accept the finality of our loss. With estrangement there is often hope of reconciliation. Hope that the mother-love we have always sought will finally come our way.

The estranged adult child doesn’t carry the loving essence of a mother, but instead carries painful memories of their mother and of rejection. When emotional hardships befall an estranged child, we often long for a mother’s love. We search to fill the void created in our hearts by the lifelong emotional absence of a mother.

Estrangement is like the amputation of an intricate part of ourselves. It’s a soul injury. We are alone in the world, floating like a leaf in the wind, homesick; yet, not able to find our home. My mother was the missing link in my life, disconnecting me from my family history and from the roots of my gender.

The most difficult aspect of motherlessness is the sense of aloneness. Sometimes, no matter how much emotional work I did, I still felt the “void” and I found it necessary to turn to my sense of spirituality. When I ached for “home,” I visualized Christ on the cross. In the human sense, Christ was completely alone. Yet, Christ was not alone. The Lord was with this beloved Child. For me, sometimes merely saying that God is with you doesn’t seem to be enough; however, visualizing Christ, suffering alone but not alone, gave me the strength to feel God’s presence meeting me right where I was.

“But now, this is what the Lord says –
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers,
They will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
You will not be burned;
The flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:1-3”

Sometimes, I imagined Christ’s unconditional love surrounding me like giant hands, tenderly holding me, loving me and keeping me safe.

God provided me with healing tears to wash away my heartache. The Lord sent me people who were willing to bear witness to my pain. God blessed me with daughters of my own so that I could experience a loving mother-daughter bond.

I thought about those in my life who did love me – my children, my friends, my partner, and I reminded myself of all for which I had to be grateful.

My father died when I was nine. I kept his picture next to my bed. Sometimes, before lying down at night, I looked into his eyes and remembered how much he loved me.

The pain of estrangement did lessen with time. As I peeled away each layer of pain, I experienced all the stages of grief until I finally reached a place of acceptance. In the end, the void made room for something more loving to grow in my life.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Betrayal and Trust

Trust is such a basic relationship necessity that if we can't trust a parent to love and protect us - whom can we trust? When we have been betrayed in our most basic human relationship - and that trust is never restored - how can we learn to trust ourselves to respond appropriately to betrayal?

I actually betrayed myself when I accepted betrayal as a part of my relationship with my mother.

I began safeguarding myself when I realized that I didn't have to accept betrayal - especially from my own mother.

I learned to trust myself in baby steps. I needed to feel the pain of my misplaced trust in order to protect myself and to seek out those whom I could trust. I learned that when I listen close enough, pain is a useful resource for protecting oneself.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The National Association to Protect Children

I belong to The National Association to Protect Children - a membership association dedicated to providing political strength and leadership to create tougher laws for the protection of abused children. As a member, I am comforted that I am doing something to support creating safer communities for our nation's kids.

From their Mission Statement:

“There’s an old saying in politics: “Children don’t vote.”

That old saying is supposed to explain why children do not inspire fear and respect among elected leaders. But the real reason children always lose out in the political arena is that adults don't fight for children the way they fight for themselves……

….Like the NRA or the AARP, we know that there is strength in numbers and power in being focused exclusively on a single issue.”

For any one who is interested in helping to create new ways to protect children, this is a very worthy organization.

Check out their recent victories on the right hand side of their "campaigns" page.

Risking Vulnerability

I feel vulnerable as a new blogger. I am struck by the number of survivors, who risk vulnerability in order to connect with people of like experiences – to share, to be heard – and to help fellow survivors.

It was only a few years ago when I discovered the world of online support. My first thought was, “Shoot. I wish we had the internet 20 years ago when I felt isolated and alone, as I went through the worst part of my recovery.

Finding other abuse survivors, support, and understanding in the real world, was a long, difficult task. Today, internet support groups (with varying degrees of privacy), and survivor blogs abound.

The internet can be a scary place – as well as a vehicle for valuable support. What the internet does offer – unlike ever before – is the ability to easily find and connect with people in similar situations. Yet, just as in the real world, we all need safe environments in which to share.

I think vulnerability in conjunction with clear, respectful boundaries - in any setting – is a risk that does have its rewards.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


The very mechanism that kept my mind safe as a child, prevented my healing as an adult. I needed to contend not only with my family's denial, but also with my own.

The angry wall of disagreement I faced each time I talked about my abuse - shook my confidence in my own experience. At the beginning of my recovery, I thought to myself, "What if I have exaggerated my abuse out of proportion, just as my family always said? Maybe it wasn't that bad after all."

At this confusing point in my recovery, my therapist suggested that I research the legal codes on child abuse. I headed to the library and stared at the black and white proof of my mistreatment. Still, my mind had difficulty accepting the gravity of my abuse. Then my therapist suggested that I write a letter to myself - offering my inner-child the validation she never received.

Sometimes we can see things for others that we can't see for ourselves. For instance, the thought of anyone treating my own children the way I was treated seemed appalling to me. Yet, for many years, I accepted that same treatment as "the norm."

The letter said in part:

Dear Nancy,
.....I know you have been looking for someone to listen to you, to believe you, and no one helped; they all blamed you. You believe you are bad. That's not true!

When Ed burned your hands, you knew it wasn't right, but your mom told you it was your fault, because you were bad. When Ed hit you with your skis, your Mom didn't come help. She blamed you. You were never safe at home. It's not okay to be beaten, tortured and tormented. It's not okay to have to witness your brothers being hurt, to inflict injuries on yourself or on your brothers. It's not okay to participate in sadistic games.

They're wrong! Nobody, but nobody, deserves this kind of treatment; especially not you. You're not bad: you're sweet, kind and innocent....

This letter opened the door to accepting - rather than denying - the painful truth of my past, and marked the beginning of my journey towards authentic healing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

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, January 1, 2008


For many years, I often read or heard – “You need to learn how to parent yourself.”

"How do you do that?" I questioned repeatedly.

Parenting classes helped me raise my own children, but how do I parent myself? Isn’t there a book or a guide?

Nobody could give me an answer.

Finally, someone said to me, "There is no good answer, because the key to what
you lacked from your mother as a child is really locked within you. There is no universal template that fits for everyone."

As vague as that sounds – it made sense. I realized that in order to nurture myself, I needed to look beyond the actual abuse I experienced, and unlock the mystery of all that I didn’t receive. In other words, I knew what I did receive - the constant threat and reality of physical violence. It took many years for me to realize what I didn't receive - physical comfort and safety.

It is difficult to figure out what we lacked as children. How does one know what they never learned?

I let the comfort I give my own children guide me, by imagining myself loved in the same way. Sometimes, I’d watch other mothers loving their children. I’d mourn for what I lost, and then I’d mother myself.

I traveled back to visit the child me, and to bear witness to all that she missed: physical comfort, emotional reassurance, safety, self-compassion, and the ability to self-soothe.

During many instances, I visualized the little me – the hurting, frightened, alone, and damaged me. These occasions caused feelings of sadness and compassion for the little girl of long ago – feelings that although deeply mournful, were also compassionate, reassuring, and healing. I’d speak to and hold the “child me,” offering her love and protection.

Slowly but surely, I worked through a list of emotional necessities that I realized I didn't receive, and I modeled other parents behavior to figure out how to give these qualities to myself. This is a long, on-going process, but as I reconstruct these basic skills, I feel stronger, whole, safe, and free.