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, November 30, 2008

On Child Abuse, Family Estrangement, and on Writing for Ourselves and for Others - Part One

Writing has been an important part of my recovery. Both in terms of clarifying my own experiences and in validating the process for others.

I was born in 1957, in an era unlike today, when the subject of family violence was not discussed. I was in my early twenties before I even heard the phrase "child abuse." While I was growing up, I didn't know that there was a term for what was happening to me. There was no internet; the media didn't tell stories of abuse, and society at large held the "goings on" within any nuclear family as "none of our business."

As a child, and as a young adult, my pleas for help were met with silence, blame, or the typical "get over it" advice. For many years, the wall of silence I faced succeeded at keeping me compliant.

The door to recovery began to open when at thirty-five, I entered therapy and I found a few close confidants who were willing to bear witness to my pain. I will be forever grateful!

And still, my recovery was largely solitary. After suffering through decades with the old adage, "forgive, forget, and get over it," I knew there had to be a better way. I read survivor stories. There were very few back then, but for the first time, the validation I received from these stories offered a soothing balm to my injured soul. I was not alone!

In time, I needed more than mutual commiseration. I wanted tips from survivors on how to heal; time to heal, and mostly, I longed for self-preservation, and for permission NOT to forgive.

I became frustrated with the small availability of survivor stories during the eighties. The books I found were either the "This is what happened to me," variety without any blueprint for hope and healing, or the "Celebrity" sort of books that irritated me with, "I was abused, but I have forgiven, and now I have a great life," without showing concrete or realistic reasons/methods for forgiveness or the healing process in between.

After decades of abuse and finally the heartbreaking estrangement from my entire family, I decided to research and write the book I was looking for. A book based on the premise that forgiveness can be premature and wasn't necessary in order to heal. In fact, at that point in my recovery, trying to forgive had actually caused me a great deal of psychological damage.

I spent weeks at the library looking for books and articles to support my contention that forgiveness wasn't necessary. There were "slim pickins" back then, but I did find some material. The small dose of validation I received that it was okay not to forgive, gave me a huge sense of relief! It also afforded me the freedom necessary to focus solely on myself and what I needed in order to heal. It was liberating to say the least.

I had no idea where the writing of this book would take me. My first draft was titled, Mother, I Don't Forgive You: A Necessary Alternative for Healing. I still like that title; it speaks to an important part of my journey.

I encourage others to write. Writing helped me heal and healing helped me write. I wrote nearly non-stop for about four years, the last two of which I simultaneously sought publication. At first, I purged myself of a whopping 500 typewritten pages that read more like the diary of a mad woman than anything else. Yet, that first draft helped me process my recovery with greater clarity. This clarity, in turn helped me write more succinctly, which subsequently helped me understand my recovery better and so on. This process helped me refine the text down to about 100 pages that were more powerfully written.

While researching my book, I read some wonderful titles, including, Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life, by Susan Forward, Divorcing a Parent: Free Yourself from the Past and Live the Life You've Always Wanted, by Beverly Engels, and Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: The Liberating Experience of Facing Painful Truth, by Alice Miller.

These books aided me in my recovery a great deal. Yet, they didn't offer me the complete process I was looking for from a survivors perspective.........


Unknown said...

Hi Nancy, you are right, I find writing my poems does help me heal, as painful as it is to write about it, I know it has to be done because it will help..thanks for a great post..hugss Mary

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Thanks Mary!

So true, and your poems are wonderful. I know many people benefit from the validation you offer with your words.


Tamara (TC) Staples said...


Writing has been my best healing tool. Much of that started with my reading your first book. Once I found the courage to begin a website and write my feelings in a more public way, it really allowed me to find my voice.

I will keep working on the website/blog but I also just finished the rough draft of a fiction book. I have wanted to write for years and finally I am doing it!

Take care,

AbuseAndForgiveness said...

Dear Tamara,

I am so glad that writing has been helpful to you and that you have "found your voice." I know how healing that is.

Also, congratulations on finishing your first draft! That is very exciting.

All my best,