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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

1992 – Entry Six – Listening to My Heart

In 1992, I shunned the conventional “how to” wisdom and followed the path that worked for me. I weighed my therapist’s words against the conflicting advice I’d heard from everyone else. I listened to my heart; let self-preservation be my guide, and my journey to wholeness began:

From 1992:

Today I told Thomas, “I’m so very angry at my mother! Everyone tells me that I should forgive her. But how can I forgive someone who has never asked to be forgiven; somebody who’s never even acknowledged any wrongdoing, someone who continues to do the same thing?"

Thomas said, “Well, psychology for years used to counsel to forgive. But we are beginning to recognize that it isn’t always possible or even healthy to do that. I believe that sometimes it is important not to forgive, and to hang onto a healthy sort of rage at what happened, in order to protect yourself from being hurt again."

I felt indescribable relief; a feeling of peace came over me. There was a potent healing power in Thomas’s words. I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom. Freedom from spending every ounce of my energy trying to suppress the dam of pain. I could let the dam "wash away" and be free to experience my suffering with a full range of emotions. For the first time, I could tell that I’d be able to heal.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Listen to Your Heart – Let Pain Be Your Guide

Have you ever noticed that there are thousands of weight loss programs that say, “Guaranteed to Lose Weight Now!” And if there was truly one weight loss program that worked for everyone, we wouldn’t see thousands on the market. There would be just the one.

I think the same is true for healing. If there was one method that worked for everyone, there would be just one.

Although we share many common maladies to varying degrees, we all have different experiences, separate timetables, and distinct needs.

I struggled with my healing, in part because of the expectations others placed on me. I was fed up and frustrated with all the “shoulds” and “should nots.” You should “get over it.” You shouldn’t dwell on the past. You should think about all that you have to be grateful for. You shouldn’t let it bother you. You should forgive. You shouldn’t be angry.

Enough already! I decided to heal on my own timetable and in my own way. I shunned the “shoulds” and decided NOT to forgive - at least until *I* was ready. When it came to healing – I shunned the should nots – and I made space in my life to honor the depth of my injuries.

I listened to my own heart and ignored the critics who said, “You have to forgive (which implied immediately). Forgiveness is good for you!” - Because, sometimes, something that can be good for you isn’t good for you at that time.

We all know that exercise is good for us. Yet, given certain circumstances, exercise can be harmful. If an avid runner is recovering from an injury – say post-op from surgery, or just had a cast removed – the doctor warns the patient to give themselves time to heal before they exercise so they don’t re-injure themselves. Many doctors say, "Let pain be your guide." By the same token, if someone tries to forgive before they have healed enough to protect themselves; they are open to re-injury.

Listen to your heart. Let pain be your guide.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Safe Place to Fall

When I was a girl, I simply wanted to be safe.

Night after night, I’d wake up at 3:00 am and lie vigilant until morning, terrified to greet the new day. Oh, how I needed a safe place.

As a teenager, I used to walk around Green Lake by myself late at night. People told me I was crazy to be out alone after dark. In retrospect, it seems more sad than crazy that I felt safer out by myself in the dark than I did in my own home.

As an adult, I met Nina. She was the first person to willingly listen to and bear witness to my pain. She helped me create a “safe space” to deal with my abuse.

And still, it wasn’t enough. I wanted my Mom to comfort me.

My Aunt Julie became an important presence in my life, offering the maternal and therapeutic guidance that was otherwise unavailable to me. When faced with life’s traumas, I ran to her. She taught me through words and actions that what makes seemingly unbearable pain bearable is the ability of another to hold your pain.

And still, it wasn’t enough. I’d leave my safe place and walk into harms way; I wanted my Mom to be my safe place.

I turned to my mother, only to be devastated by her responses. Then, I’d nose-dive like an airplane, spinning out of control in a downward spiral.

The most basic relationship of my life – the unsafe connection with my mother – defined my sense of norm. My “norm” was to “sign on” and ignore the red flags in intimate relationships until I was hooked. Then, I tried to change unsafe conditions rather than to simply shun that which was damaging to me to begin with.

I teetered back and forth between safe places and unsafe places until the day came when I stopped trying to pathologically get support where it is was unobtainable – and to only seek support from where it was available.

I learned that there is no reason to ever accept feeling unsafe….

….Because, at the end of the day, we all need a safe place to fall.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse is up at Beautiful Dreamer with a great round of posts.

The Blog Carnival against Child Abuse was founded by Marj at Survivors Can Thrive, and is hosted on a monthly basis by a variety of bloggers.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, Enola has a wonderful description of the carnival in her February call for submissions.

Check out this edition of the carnival!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Power of Denial – 1992 Entry Five - Then vs. Now

My heart breaks when I receive an email from a survivor who believes the abuse was/is all her fault, or questions whether it is really abuse at all. I’ve read many horrific stories of abuse from women asking me for a frame of reference. “Is this really that bad?”

The question leaves me stunned and grief-stricken for their pain. And I answer, “Yes, you are describing horrible abuses and huge betrayals.”

Today, it is hard for me to believe that sixteen years ago, I too, questioned if my abuse was “really that bad.”

I used many survival tactics as a child - such as dissociation and denial. Yet, when I began recovery, I discovered that the very mechanisms that saved me as a child – harmed me as an adult. My therapist tried to “gently” shake me out of my denial. It was a long process. Sometimes, his eyes would well with tears when I told him a story, and I wondered – “why?”

At one point, Thomas told me, “Nancy, on a scale from one to ten, your abuse was a ten. The sooner you accept that, the better off you will be.”

And still I lived in denial.

The following are a series of entries from my 1992 journal spanning a couple of weeks:

Thomas said, “I have an assignment for you. I’d like you to write an indictment.”

“I don’t understand. An indictment against whom?”

“Whomever you think should get one.”……..

……..I went to the library and got a copy of an indictment and the RCW on child abuse. I studied them. The definition of Child Abuse is so vague, it seems as if anyone can worm out of it. I can’t tell if what happened when I was a kid was prosecutable. That’s driving me nuts. I recall my phone call to the hotline when I was fifteen. The volunteer told me to call the police. I can’t remember why she thought I should…….

……….I told Thomas, “I can’t write the indictment. I’m not sure my abuse was prosecutable.”

He said, “That’s Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad.”

Boy did that make me crazy! When I left Thomas’, I felt like I was having an anxiety attack. What if I have exaggerated my abuse out of proportion just as Mom always said. Maybe it didn’t really happen the way I remember it. If it didn’t happen, then I really am nuts. My family has always told me I am nuts – maybe it’s true. It’s like looking at a color. I see red, but everyone in the family is mad at me and says it is blue. I need to find out for myself……..

…….I called some childhood friends that might have seen something. I am overwhelmed by the response I received. Even after all these years, many still had vivid memories and were more than willing to talk. Some of what they saw were –
  • I remember Ed chucking Rob down the basement stairs. Not pushing or shoving, but literally picking him up and chucking him right down the stairs.
  • Once Rob spilled something on the kitchen floor. Ed came running in from the other room and grabbed Rob by the back of the neck and yanked his head to the floor. He rubbed Rob’s nose in the spill like a dog…Just like a dog.
  • I remember that when I’d eat dinner at your house, Ed often stabbed you guys with a fork.
  • Ed had this thing about “watching.” He used to line you guys up - turn to me and say “watch this” and go down the line beating you with a wooden paddle just for sport.
  • I saw Ed beat you once. I can still hear the tremendous “whack.” I ran from your house and never went back. I was scared to death of him.
  • I saw Ed pick up little Randy and throw him against the fireplace brick wall………

…………“I was shaken when I left here last week, Thomas. I had to find out. I’m always so scared I’m going to get bashed for talking about my childhood. I always have in the past. Even now, talking to you, a part of me is still scared you will say it was all my fault, or that I’m making it up. It runs to my core. But it did happen. It’s not just my imagination.”

“I know.”

“I know that you were just trying to “jar” me with the indictment assignment. It was prosecutable.”

“I know.”

Even after working through this assignment with Thomas, it took years to fully accept the extent of my abuse. It took receiving a great deal of validation and acknowledgment from many people before I became stronger and clearer about what happened to me and the effect that it had on my life.

Although I was already aware of my childhood experiences, I lived in denial about the effect the abuse had on me. It was necessary to have other people bear witness to my trauma. This allowed me the opportunity to admit to myself the ways in which I was damaged by my abuse. Support and validation offered from others, dissolved my isolation and gave me the necessary strength to journey forward to the life I deserved.

Monday, April 14, 2008

1992 - Entry Four – Estrangement

From a 1992 letter to myself:

……….I know how hard it is to break away from your mother and to give up on the dream of a loving, nurturing family. But she never has been a mother. You will never have her love. Don’t spend the rest of your life trying to get it. You’ll only get hurt.

I know that everyone keeps telling you that family is family and should be held together at all costs. I don’t think that cost should be you……

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Abraham Lincoln and Estrangement

It is my pleasure that my children are free, happy
and unrestrained by parental tyranny.
Love is the chain whereby to bind a child to its parents.

- Abraham Lincoln

Although experts agree that family estrangement appears to be on the rise in recent decades, family rifts are certainly nothing new.

I found it interesting to learn that Abraham Lincoln was estranged from his abusive father. When Lincoln’s brother notified him of his father’s impeding death, Abraham decided not to go see his father. This is how he responded:

From a January 12, 1851 letter to his brother (Reference - Abraham Lincoln and His Books, By William Eleazar Barton, p. 70):

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.


  1. Lincoln

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Founder of to appear on the Tyra Banks Show

In more estrangement news, Jenna Macfarlane, founder of is scheduled to appear on the Tyra Banks Show on Monday, April 14, 2008.

From her website:

To establish a support system for individuals and families affected by estrangement or other relationship loss by finding new familial connections.

Ten years into her estrangement, Jenna placed an ad in the local newspaper for a new family. After receiving an overwhelming response to her ad, Jenna formed a bond with her new "parents." As a result of this experience she started "The Human Family Project" to help people link to new families.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Many Sides of Estrangement

During the last several years, I have had the opportunity to correspond with many individuals suffering from the effects of family estrangement. I’ve learned much through this experience.

I've heard of many different circumstances causing a family cut-off: disapproval of choice of mate, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, career choice's, money, addictions, abuse, in-laws......Usually, the cause of the family rift has been building for years without adequate communication. Then, a single event "appears" to have caused the rift.

My heart breaks for anyone dealing with the anguish of family cut-offs. I’ve heard from inconsolable parents whose adult children refuse to see them, and adult children who have been rejected by a parent. Some estrangements involve siblings, whole families, or one person ostracized from the rest of the family. No matter the “side” or the circumstances, I identify with our common thread – the void – a hole in our hearts where our family members used to be.

I can relate to other adult children who have been rejected by a parent or who feel orphaned after making the painful decision to sever an abusive relationship. Yet, not all estrangements are the result of abuse. I can also empathize with the pain parents express who have been rejected by an adult child and don’t understand why. As a mother myself, I can’t think of anything more painful than to lose a child under any circumstances. No matter the cause of the family rift, cut-offs are excruciating stuff! We all express the same emotions; hurt, anger, sadness, blame, fear, disbelief……

A few estrangement resources available on the web:

Healing Estranged Relationships, Inc.

Joshua Coleman, Ph.D.

Mark Sichel, LCSW

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No Longer a Damaged Child

Years into my family estrangement, there were times when I felt blind-sighted by second-hand comments about me from others, which originated from my family of origin. The walls of my protective cocoon burst like a bubble and I wondered with exasperation, “Will there ever be a time in my life when I feel safe and free of this pain.”

Deep down, I was still a damaged child who longed for the love and approval I never received from my mother. I wanted my Mom to replace the bad internal messages she had instilled within me with good internal messages.

For most of my adult life, I viewed my mother as more powerful. Whenever I heard her negative comments about me, I felt like the powerless child I used to be.

The day finally came when I realized that I could - and should replace the negative messages myself (January 1, Self-Parenting Post). With the help of many friends, I changed the majority voice I heard in my head from that of abuse to that of love.

It took healing enough to no longer feel like a damaged child, but rather a strong, quietly powerful woman in order for my mother’s comments to no longer injure me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

1992 – Entry Three - Still a Damaged Child

From my 1992 journal:

…….I am questioning myself. I’m afraid that people will believe Mom and think that I am crazy. It is hard without the love, support, and understanding of a mother. She isn’t behind me to help me. She is the one I need protection from. I long for the love, safety, comfort and support of a mother. Why doesn’t she love me?

I talked to Thomas today about my frustration that every once and a while, Mom does something nice for me. Whenever she has done something nice, I’ve let myself get sucked back in. I get my hopes up that we can have a relationship and then – Wham! She slices me to ribbons.

Thomas said, “So, you can grieve the loss of the mother she could have been.”

I fought back tears…….. “Yes.”

Monday, April 7, 2008

1992 – Entry Two – Afraid to be selfish

In 1992 was afraid to be “selfish” and to put my own well-being first. I was torn between the destructiveness of my relationship with my mother and the consequences of deciding not to see her anymore.

From my 1992 journal:

Sometimes I’m in so much pain it doesn’t seem like I will survive; yet, I’m afraid of the alternative. I told Thomas about the latest episode with my mother.

“I feel so hurt, broken and angry that I decided not to talk to my Mom. Would it be okay not to talk to my mother anymore, at all?

Thomas said, “I think you should do whatever it takes to be okay. You do what ever is right for you.”

“My Mom would be furious with me and so would my family.”

“You can tell them that I gave you permission. Let them be mad at me.”

I laughed. “To the adult Nancy that sounds so funny. But, there’s that little girl who waited twenty-five years for someone to acknowledge that what happened really happened. That little girl has been waiting for someone to lift that awful burden from her. To her it isn’t funny at all."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sometimes, it’s Okay to be Selfish

Contrary to popular belief, healing required stepping out of my abusive relationships, out of the desire to forgive and to become “selfish,” focusing on myself and on what I needed.

Selfish didn’t mean self-centeredness. It meant taking my focus off of that which diminished me and placing it on that which gave me hope and a future.

During the most tenuous part of my recovery, it was important for me to build a strong healing foundation. In the ensuing years, I often found myself thrust back to my foundation with an uncompromising resolve to put myself first in this process no matter what losses putting myself first required.