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

Monday, September 22, 2008

Survivor's Manifesto

April_optimist at The Thriver's Toolbox submitted A Survivor's Manifesto to The Blog Carnival Against Abuse that I'd like to share here.

I believe that many survivors of trauma and abuse will feel empowered by her post.

Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

Yay! The Carnival is back over at Survivor’s Can Thrive with a great collection of posts from the survivor community.

Kudos to Marj for her perseverance.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Confronting an Abuser

Confronting an abuser can be very frightening.

Prior to our estrangement, I confronted my mother about the violence in our family numerous times. During my first attempts, I hadn’t healed enough to be clear about my needs. Nor was I sufficiently prepared to set and maintain appropriate boundaries. Each time I approached my mother, I stood before her still feeling like a damaged child, hoping she was willing to change our family dynamic. She was not.

Later, after preparing and rehearsing with my therapist, I learned to confront my mother without the false hopes that she would suddenly “see the light,” apologize and change. Instead, I prepared for her to deny, blame me, become angry, and tell me that I was crazy.

Yet, it was important for me to "stand in the truth" and a) Calmly tell her what she had done to harm me. b) Express feeling unloved, frightened and alone as a result of the abuse. c) Explain how her betrayal affected my ability to trust and the long-term effects I suffered as an adult, and d) What I expected from her with respect to my minor brother’s safety and that of my own children. I did all this in the most loving tone possible. I prepared at length to make sure I didn’t behave in a passive-aggressive or threatening way, nor would I defend or engage in any argument.

Although she did react with anger, name calling and blame, I felt empowered in that I took control of my own life and I moved from victim to survivor. It was a “cleansing” experience.

My mother was appalled that I calmly “gave voice to the truth.” Her attempts to maintain status quo and to keep me in the victim role gave me the courage to place my own well-being first and to end our relationship. From there my authentic healing process began.

When confronting an abuser, I think it is important to be prepared for the possibility that they may end the relationship, or that you may determine that it is time to end a relationship that does not allow for your emotional health.

It is important to prepare and rehearse all the possibilities to bolster your confidence and to make sure you are strong enough to handle being “challenged” by your abuser. Practice role playing with a therapist and/or a supportive friend. Make sure you have support every step of the way.

If your relationship has been particularly violent and you are afraid to meet in person, many people write letters. Sometimes the letters are to try to maintain a relationship, and sometimes they are to cleanse yourself of the past and move on.

After my mother and I became estranged I wrote her a letter to get everything “off my chest” and feel “heard” in absentia. It wasn’t a letter I ever intended to send. It was about me, not a desired response from my mom. Once written, I read it myself and ceremoniously burned it.

Confrontation isn’t for everyone. Don’t feel pressured to confront if you haven’t healed enough to take this step; if you don’t have adequate support, or if you don’t feel safe. Confrontation is a personal decision and isn’t a necessary step for everyone. Healing comes in many shapes and forms. Every individual should decide for themselves what it is that brings them the most peace.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Majority Rules

Sometimes it is difficult to see ourselves clearly. I read somewhere that the brain can diagnose a problem anywhere in its own body - except in itself!

Sometimes, other people can help give us perspective. A friend once told me, "If someone tells you that you're a horse and you are sure that you are not, dismiss their comment outright. If another person tells you that you're a horse, think about the possibility before you dismiss their words. But, if a third person tells you that you're a horse - start eating hay!"

When it comes to many relationship issues, I believe this is sound advice. For instance, many people had to tell me that I lacked patience before I believed them.

Often, the old adage, "Majority Rules," is true.

However, there are exceptions to every rule. When it comes to abuse and family estrangement, there is a flaw in the typical majority rules theory. Family systems are living, breathing organisms much like the individual brain. They can't diagnose themselves. They often cling to the only thing they know - years of embedded patterns of abuse, enmeshment, and/or control.

Often, when someone tries to break a dysfunctional family pattern, they are in the minority. The rest of the family clings to "status quo" and expresses, "Look, we all agree. There is something wrong with you." Outsiders quickly concur. Majority rules.

I was in the minority in my family - often a painful place to be. But, sometimes, the frustration of living in minority gives way to the healing power of constructing a life free from abuse!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reconciliation - Starting Fresh

Often, re-establishing relationships with family members can appear to be an impossible task. Yet, sometimes people are surprised when the road to healing leads to new beginnings.

Most people I’m acquainted with who have successfully mended an estrangement, didn’t go back and re-hash specific events from the past. For this reason healing prior wounds on your own is very important.

If you believe the time may be right to reconcile – move slowly. Understand that the process of healing broken relationships does not happen overnight. Resolution can take months and even years. Take baby steps while you begin to build trust – both in yourself and with your relatives. It is much easier to move forward slowly than it is to try to pull back if you have moved too fast.

Balance your hope with realistic expectations. Reconciliation doesn't mean the relationship will be perfect. Hopefully, with growth, you will have developed new ways to respond to old patterns.

Start out accentuating the positive. Find common ground. Reminisce about good memories, share mutual interests, and express positive feelings.

If you have been estranged from your entire family, rather than “jumping” right back in and seeing all of them at once, you may want to consider staggering separate visits.

At first, keep your time short and don’t discuss difficult issues that come up with your family until you have had time to work through intense emotions alone or with supportive friends. Spend time in between visits adjusting to and absorbing the many positive and negative conflicting emotions you will experience by sharing with trusted confidants: a therapist, a minister, friends, and/or support groups.

Expect to navigate some slippery slopes and develop ways to help you cope with new situations. You may want to limit the length of your visits at first and insulate yourself by not spending one-on-one time with a family member if you don’t feel safe.

After attempting reconciliation, you may be satisfied with the results and you may not. You can only control your half of the relationship.