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, July 31, 2008


Like many survivors, once I moved passed my denial and accepted the reality of my abuse, I questioned: “Why?”

“Why was/is my mother so cruel to me?”

“How could my own mother _______(reject, betray, torture, abandon) me?”

I think it is human to question why. We long to make sense of it all. As if the answers will magically give us a handle on what happened.

In time, I realized that my questions were fruitless and that they kept me stuck in an unhealthy emotional place. The important thing was to move forward with my own healing, and so I did.

Yet, people continued to ask me, “What was your mother’s childhood like? What happened to her that caused her reactions to life and to you?”

I do appreciate why they asked me this question. They wanted some relief from their discomfort.

I understand wanting some relief. I remember watching the move “Sybil” many years ago. I was horrified for Sybil throughout the movie and kept asking myself, “How could a mother do such things?”

Finally, towards the end of the movie, it was divulged that Sybil’s mother was schizophrenic. I felt a sense of “relief” when I heard this, because the diagnosis offered an “explanation.” Surely, no “normal” mother would “mutilate” her daughter’s internal reproductive organs with a knife.

I “walked” away from the movie less disturbed, and that really horrified me!!!

The diagnosis didn’t change Sybil’s trauma, or experiences; it didn’t serve to lesson the impact on her life. I felt ashamed that I let her mother’s diagnosis mollify me.

In my books, I deliberately avoided any theoretical discussion as to the root causes of my abuse. I know this leaves the reader more “disturbed” about the abuse, but it more closely aligns with the survivor’s experience. As children, we did not have the benefit of understanding “root causes,” or our parent’s history. We didn’t know we were taking on our parents issues. For instance, all I knew was that my mother told me I was “bad,” and I believed her.

As children, we didn’t get the relief so many people want when they hear our stories. In my opinion, we should feel disturbed when we see, hear, or read about abuse, rather than mollified.

It is my hope the day will come we when are able to take the emphasis off of the perpetrator and our own discomfort in order to “share the burden of pain” with the victim/survivor and make an effective shift in our collective humanity.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weddings and Funerals

People experiencing family estrangements often agonize over what to do about weddings and funerals. To go, or not to go? Often, neither option feels good.

The answer is different for everyone depending on the circumstances and whichever decision brings us the most peace.

During my fourteen year family estrangement, I had to deal with this issue a number of times. The most difficult was my grandmother’s funeral six years into our estrangement. Although I loved her deeply, I simply did not feel safe enough to attend. Grandma had refused to see me right up until her death. At that point in my abuse recovery, I still wasn’t capable of facing what I believed would be a continued wall of angry abuse, blame, and rejection. The soul-crushing isolation caused by not attending her service left me devastated. I stayed home and cried all day. Yet, I never regretted my decision.

Two years later, I found an invitation to my brother Brandon’s wedding in my mailbox. Recalling the angry words he wrote to me in a letter eight years earlier gave me pause. Nonetheless, I regarded his invitation at face value, even though I didn’t feel safe enough to attend the wedding.

I immediately sent Brandon and his fiancé a gift along with a letter revealing how honored I was to be invited to their wedding. I told him that I regarded the invitation as a wonderful gesture of love, wished Brandon and his bride-to-be every happiness, and expressed my desire to meet with them after the wedding.

Fourteen years into our family estrangement, I did attend a family funeral. It was important to me to go. I wanted to say good-bye to my cousin and to honor what was a good part of my family history. Although the thought of facing my family felt very challenging, I believed I had healed enough to face the challenge. I am so glad I went.

My gentleman friend went with me for support. We arrived just in time for the service, sat towards the back, and felt touched by the sweet and faithful service.

After the service, we mingled a little to say "hello" to some of my extended relatives, and left. I was prepared to be cordial and go about my way if I had unavoidable contact with my mother or brothers; however, I didn't have any contact with them, nor did they attempt to have any contact with me.

Overall, it was an emotional day, but it couldn't have gone better.

Each of these situations presented their own set of challenges. Nonetheless, to this day, I am satisfied that I did the right thing for me at each point in my estrangement and recovery.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Underlying Gift in my Estrangement

When we hurt, sometimes it is difficult to see anything other than our pain. For me, estrangement seemed like drawing the “short stick" - a matter of survival - but not emotional prosperity.

After the loss of my childhood to physical and emotional abuse, I was determined to construct a healthy life for my daughters and me.

As painful as my estrangement was, I used the time to grow in ways that would not have been possible while having a relationship with my family members. My greatest emotional growth occurred as a result of my separation from my mother. Our parting was essential for me to have the time to heal in an environment free from re-injury. It forced me to develop my own sense of self, separate from my family and shook me free from my denial. Estrangement gave me the space necessary to learn to set boundaries within the safety of a protective cocoon.

Of course, during the bulk of the time I was cut off from my family, I saw only the down side of estrangement – feeling rejected and disconnected. I wanted to heal from my abuse, be safe, and have relationships with my family. It wasn’t until after we reconciled that I saw the underlying gift in our estrangement. I am who I am today as a result of all the hard work, self-nurturing, and support I received from other individuals in my life that would not have been possible if I remained “enmeshed” in an unhealthy family dynamic.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lion Love

Okay, this is something completely different than I usually post, but I can’t get this video out of my mind.

I’ve spent some time wondering why I am so “taken” with this video. Maybe it is because it reminds me of the missing bond I had with my father. Or, maybe it is because I’m fascinated that love expressed authentically can transcend species, whereas so many families are estranged.

Or, maybe it is because the video stands alone as profoundly heartwarming. Whatever the reason, check it out:

And if you enjoyed the video you can read the back story here:\

Saturday, July 12, 2008

"Get over it" vs. "Go through it"

When it comes to the pain of abuse and estrangement, we are often encouraged to just “Get over it.” Survivors often share with me how painful it is to reach out for help only to hear, “Get over it.” It occurred to me that when we place the phrase “Get over it” along side “Go through it,” “Get over it,” seems rather silly.

A few nights ago I had a strange dream. I saw two people tackling mountains in completely different ways. Of course, the physical mountains were symbolic of mountains of pain. One person was trying to “get over” the mountain on a bike. She was all alone, and working very hard. When she did finally reach the other side, she noticed that no matter how hard she tried to move on, she was always aware of the mountain. She did “get over it,” but it was still there in its original form. In the ensuing months and years, no matter how much she relished in conquering that mountain, she kept the secret that she was drawn back to take the difficult and lonely ride “over” the peak once more.

The other person decided to “blast” through the mountain. She too worked very hard. In fact harder than the person who biked over the mountain. However, she was not alone. She had a whole crew of supportive people on her team. Although the blasting was much harder and took years longer, she felt satisfied, because as she chipped away at that mountain, it began to disappear. Each part of the mountain became a “memory” rather than a present reality. Sometimes the work was so hard that she wished she would have just gone over it, but as she came closer and closer to the “other side,” she realized that the only way through the mountain – is through it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Yesterday, a survivor friend shared with me how she continues to allow her mother to mistreat her. She said that her downfall was her compassion. She keeps getting drawn back into the crazy-making because she has compassion for her mother.

Boundary issues are common in abusive family systems. Abuse victims and survivors are often programmed to empathize with those who harm us. Other individuals also insist that we should have compassion for an offender in an effort to resolve conflict.

There was a time in my young life when I too had a great deal of compassion for my mother. Whenever I acted on my compassion, I seemed to be giving her permission to hurt me again.

I failed to realize that having compassion for another person is not a license to allow mistreatment. Compassion should go hand in hand with clear, respectful boundaries. Feeling compassion didn’t mean that I had to act on compassion and put myself in harms way.

As a young adult, when I risked sharing the trauma of my childhood, my chosen confidant often ignored my words by simply insisting that I should have compassion for my mother. This response made me very angry because my previous attempts at acting on my compassion failed to heal our relationship and only served to allow myself to be hurt again.

I didn’t experience the compassion of a loving mother growing up, nor did I learn self-compassion. I needed to experience some compassion. Placing conditions on the victim and not on the offender seemed very damaging.

Just as with premature forgiveness – compassion can be premature. The sort of
assistance I needed from others was to just "hold" my experience, listen to me, validate me, and have compassion for me without placing any conditions on me.

Until I was able to focus solely on my own healing, on becoming self-compassionate, and on learning to protect myself, compassion for my mother had to wait.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Fourth of July

Independence day! A day we celebrate our freedom, with family picnics, fireworks, games, food, BBQ’s, and parades. A day off of work! And a day for many that is packed with all kinds of fun…

…However, for some, the 4th of July is another solitary day of mourning.

The pain of family estrangement is often heightened during any holiday.

When faced with my first holiday alone – disconnected from my lifelong family traditions – my therapist stated matter-of-factly, "You will create new holiday traditions."

Easier said than done. Throughout the first years of my family estrangement, I suffered through birthdays, holidays, and other significant events nursing my wounds while I tried to cope with my feelings of exclusion and rejection.

However, my therapist was right. In time, I did create new holiday traditions that were far more fun and loving than the old.

If you are recently estranged, take heart that the pain of estrangement and that of dealing with the holidays does lessen with time. Mourning is a necessary part of the process. When we are done mourning the old, we make room for the new.

Happy Fourth of July!