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

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Who Wants to be the Bad Guy?

The answer is – Nobody!

This certainly holds true for family estrangement.

I can’t count on my fingers the number of times I’ve heard estrangee’s say that family member(s) refused to see them and then those same estrangers were maneuvering to make it look as if the family estrangement was the estrangee’s fault.

They questioned how to respond so they didn’t come off as the bad guy to extended family members and friends.

The truth is – when you are on the “other” side of any family estrangement – you are perceived to be the bad guy; it is the nature of estrangement. So, make decisions that are best for you, rather than trying to attain an unattainable outcome.

Our experiences are OUR experiences and quite often they do not align with those of our "loved ones.” Regardless of how other people view our circumstances, we need to stand firmly and confidently in our own truth and make choices for ourselves accordingly.

I haven't met anyone yet (including myself) who has said, "I am estranged from so and so, and it is all MY fault." We tend to say, "I am estranged and it is THEIR fault; listen to what happened - this is my experience."

Currently, after moving through the reconciliation process with my mother, I have a new vantage point. She has her experience and I have mine. They are quite different; yet, to me it doesn't matter.

Sixteen years ago, I estranged myself from my mother. I don't regret my decision to estrange. As painful as it was - it afforded me the opportunity to heal from my abuse and find some peace in my life.

In the beginning of our estrangement, I looked at our conflicts and considered myself right. I needed to do this to build a foundation for healing - to honor the depth of my injuries, to release my anger and to mourn my losses. It was the first layer of a necessary process.

Later, I understood that we were both "right" about our own experiences. Even though I could "hold" both of our experiences I still kept proper boundaries and didn't see her because I didn't feel safe. It was a major step for me to be able to have compassion for her without acting on that compassion vs. only seeing my side.

It seems clear that everyone has a right to protect themselves from severe abuse. My experience was that the estrangement was necessary for my very survival. At some point during our estrangement, I realized that whether I liked it or not, Mom and I had different experiences. Mom's experience was that I kept causing turmoil in her life by "complaining" about the abuse in the family. As skewed as this may seem to me, I do agree that this WAS her experience. My complaints DID cause turmoil in her life.

During our estrangement, I sought and received validation from others that it wasn't okay to abuse me. And Mom sought and received validation from others that I was a trouble-maker and shouldn't have cut her out of my life for any reason.

Nobody wants to feel like the bad guy. Finding the balance between confidence and compassion comes from within.


KarenP said...

Hi Nancy,

This was a very enlightening post. I do, however, have a question for you. I am semi-estranged, if there is such a thing, from my parents. I don't see my parents except for birthday parties of my nieces and nephews and then some holidays. I do not see them or speak to them anytime in between. I think you may have read my story already on my blog but in case you haven't it's You can go to my profile or story and I've linked the post of my story from there.
You mentioned in your post that your mom received validation from others that you were a trouble maker and should not have cut her out of your life for any reason. Has your mom, in any way, validated your pain? If not, doesn't that make you angry? How do you move beyond wanting her to see your pain? How do you truly reconcile if she doesn't see your pain? I don't mean that she needs to understand it but I would think in some way she needs to validate it in order for there to be true reconciliation. Any feedback would be appreciated.

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Hi Karen,

Yes, I have read your story and your blog. Although I read blogs, I'm afraid I don't get around to commenting much because of my schedule.

I must say, your story touches me in a very deep place. You tell your story with clarity, honesty, and vulnerability. I respect your healing process.

The answer to your question - just like many aspects of healing - is not an easy one. The following is a tiny outline of how I felt about validation over a period of decades.

I was the family scapegoat and therefore was completely estranged from my entire family of origin for 14 years. During the beginning of our estrangement (and before) I longed for my mother (and the rest of my family) to "fix" things and validate and acknowledge my pain. Of course, they did not.

During our estrangement, I received a great deal of validation from others. And, after years of healing, I was surprised that I no longer needed validation from my mother. I had reached the point where my abuse no longer felt present, I learned to parent myself and I felt safe. I still didn't think I would be able to reconcile with her without her willingness to "rehash" the past and her acknowledgment of what she had done to me. I hadn't healed enough yet to trust myself to safeguard my well-being around her. So, unless she could demonstrate she understood what she did to hurt me in the past, I didn't feel safe in the present. Later, after healing sufficiently, I did trust myself to safeguard my own well-being no matter how she behaved.

Surprisingly, my mother did call me after 14 years of estrangement. She said she was "sorry for the abuse," and that is the last we mentioned of it. I don't think I would have been able to reconcile without this "general" acknowledgment; however, I accept that she will never be a "nurturing" mother and share an emotional relationship with me. Fortunately, I have learned to nurture and mother myself.

Has your mom in any way validated your pain? - Just the one general statement.

If not, doesn't that make you angry? - For many years yes. And because I have no control over her - only myself - I would have never considered reconciliation while I was still angry. I needed to deal with my anger in safe environments and heal enough (many years) that I no longer needed her to help me heal.

How do you move beyond wanting her to see your pain? I have received so much empathy from other's that I have internalized this empathy as self-compassion, self-nurturing, and I see myself as my own mother. I finished the job she started and wasn't/isn't capable of doing.

Of course, this is just a small "snapshot" of the process. I must say that I don't think I was ready to reconcile any sooner than I did. It takes a lot of healing.


KarenP said...

Thank you for your kind words regarding my blog and my story. I read your blog all the time as well as others and don't always comment either so I do understand.

I do receive a great deal of validation from others, including 2 of my sisters. So, again, I can relate to this.

I feel that I am exactly at the point in my healing where the abuse finally doesn't feel so present, I am learning to parent myself, and I do not feel safe enough to guard my well being around my mother. You hit the nail on the head!

It was good to read further and see how after more healing, things changed. I believe that is, again, where I need to stay. I have a hard time being patient with this healing process. I still find myself "pushing" myself along and expecting that I should be further along. After reading your response, I feel I can now give myself permission to slow down and heal more.

Thank you so much!

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Hi Karen,

You're welcome. I'm so glad you are giving yourself permission to slow down.

I too, "pushed" myself to heal faster and I kept thinking, "Shouldn't I feel much better than this by now?"

I began to question whether I would ever heal adequately. I think that is very common. We all wish the healing process was faster.

Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you a little better. It is an honor!