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

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Did That Just Happen?

I can't count the number of times I found myself on the receiving end of some sort of physical or emotional violence only to have my mother (or other family members) "pretend" nothing happened.

As a child, I sometimes questioned my sanity: Did that just happen?

As a young adult, the "pretending" made me angry.

As both a child and a young adult, I used to walk on eggshells around my mother. I never knew when she would unleash a rampage: cursing, yelling, belittling, blaming, etc. Then, the next time I'd see her she'd greet me with a big smile and the words, "Hi honey!" like nothing ever happened. It was crazy-making stuff!

I know I'm not alone in this experience. A common complaint I hear from other adult abuse survivors who are trying to maintain or re-establish contact with a family member is that of contending with a tirade over the phone, by e-mail, or in person only to have their family member act as if nothing happened the next time around.

While it is true that "pretending" can be rooted in some sort of sociopathy (no conscious), I don't think that is always the case. I believe that many abusers have a conscious but don't regard their behavior as abusive.

I read something once that said that human beings can't bear the thought that we have done something horrible, because if we did, we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves. Our tortured conscious requires us to take some sort of action to resolve our inner turmoil. We have a couple of choices:

A) We can help the other individual by repairing the damage we've done. This also helps us by easing our conscious. However, many people don't have the strength, courage, awareness, or emotional capability to repair the damage; so, they choose plan B.

B) We can ease our conscious by convincing ourselves that what we did wasn't so bad (or was justified) and then banish it from our mind like it didn't happen.

In other words, when it comes to abuse's and someone "pretends," it didn't happen, there isn't anything we can do to "make" them acknowledge the offenses. If they can't "repair" it - they have to "ignore" it.

My mother definitely has a conscious. For years, I tried to plead to her conscious to do the "right" thing. To me, reparation seemed like an easy thing to do - acknowledge, apologize, don't do it again . It took a great deal of time for me to wrap my head around the concept that no amount of explaining or pleading would result in acknowledgment. She didn't know how to "repair" the damage (or change her behavior), so her conscious wouldn't allow her to accept that she did something horrible.

Sixteen years ago, amidst continued family violence, the less healed me wasn't able to safe-guard my own well being, or that of my children. At the time, my only choice was estrangement. For some people, persistent physical and emotional violence continues to prohibit any safe contact. However, in my case, time changed some of the dynamics in my family. And, our fourteen years apart afforded me enough healing (and validation from others), that I was able to heal my past trauma without my mothers acknowledgment of the "specifics." I also learned to keep myself out of harms way in the present by setting and maintaining clear, respectful boundaries.

Thus far, the "pretending" issue hasn't come up again, but if it does, I know there is nothing I can do except safe-guard my own well-being.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning to Mother Myself

Learning to self-parent has been critical for me to gain a sense of safety in the world. The more I comfort my inner-child, the more whole and empowered I feel. The topic of self-parenting has come up a great deal lately with survivors I'm in contact with so, I decided to post a portion of a chapter from Heal and Forgive II: The Journey from Abuse and Estrangement to Reconciliation:


Learning to Mother Myself

Bitter are the tears of a child: Sweeten them.
Deep are the thoughts of a child: Quiet them.
Sharp is the grief of a child: Take it from him.

Soft is the heart of a child: Do not harden it.
~ Pamela Glenconner

Here in the Pacific Northwest, one of my neighbors has a palm tree showcased in the front yard of their home. The tree is small in stature with drooping pale yellow-green palms. It appears out of place among the many tall and thriving evergreens native to the region. Often, when I drive by this little tree during hostile winter conditions, I wonder how it survives, blanketed in snow and ice. The palm knows nothing of dry soil or the warm climate of its native land. It doesn’t know what it’s missing – that there are more favorable conditions available in which to flourish. Like my neighbor’s tree, I was unaware of the many loving conditions the human psyche requires in order to thrive.

The child in me sometimes still longed for a mommy. In the absence of proper nurturing, it is difficult for a daughter to separate herself from her mother. I remained tied to my mother; needing the love and approval of the one person I was designed to pattern my life after. I needed a mom to say, “I love you and I have faith in you.” I needed a mother to carry within me as a separate individual. I realized that mother had to be me.

I often read in books, and heard in therapy and from many individuals about the need to learn to “self parent.” It was one thing to learn to parent my own children, it was quite another to learn to parent me. "How do I do that?" I asked repeatedly.

Nobody could give me a good answer. Finally, someone said to me, "There is no good answer, because the key to what you lacked from your mother as a child is locked within you; there is no universal template that fits for everyone."

Until successfully learning to self-parent, I remained bitter about the concept of internalizing my own mother. Becoming my own mother seemed like a poor substitute for someone cheated out of the real thing.

Like other motherless daughters, I longed for a mother to replace the love I missed. I thought only motherless people had to internalize a mother. I didn’t realize that all adult children have an internal parent. Having an internal parent is what constitutes adulthood.

No parent can do a perfect job; therefore, every individual needs to learn to parent certain aspects of themselves. The difference for me was, whereas most people have much of their internal parent placed within them by the loving actions of their own parent, I needed to internalize a parent largely on my own.

It is difficult to identify exactly what one missed from a parent. How does one know what they have never experienced? A confusing aspect to self-parenting for me was that many of the qualities my mother deprived me of I gave to my own children without understanding I needed them as well. Many emotional “basics” did not seem obvious – like receiving physical comfort. Although my children were the recipients of my hugs, I didn’t realize that because the child-me hadn’t received physical comfort, my inner child hadn’t internalized physical safety.

Hearing about a study made on prisoners who were never touched during incarceration unless they were touched violently made me realize that for the bulk of my childhood, this was also true for me. The little girl in me only knew violent touch! I needed to learn how to comfort myself.

Long into adulthood, recalling stories of family violence evoked powerful tremors in me. The muscles in my limbs quivered uncontrollably and no amount of effort could suppress the flood of shaking. I remembered the first time in childhood my body shivered like a frightened animal, while anticipating the beating about to come my way. I should have had a parent to run to for a safe place to fall - for comfort and for protection. After each beating, I dealt with my injuries in isolation and on my own – without any soothing. I wasn’t taught, nor did I learn to self-soothe. My “body memory” re-enacted these tremors any time I summoned recollections in my young life when I was at the mercy of those who tormented me.

As an adult, whenever my limbs shook uncontrollably, I began the ritual of wrapping my arms around myself and rocking in a rocking chair, providing myself with the physical comfort that I never experienced as a child.

The temptation was certainly present to have someone help comfort me; however, I knew that would defeat the purpose of this exercise. Ultimately, the “power” of a mother’s love – the mother I was learning to internalize for myself– ended my shaking.

On many such occasions I visualized in my mind’s eye the child me – the hurting, frightened, alone, and damaged me. These occasions caused feelings of sadness and compassion for the little girl of long ago – feelings that although deeply mournful, were also compassionate, reassuring, and healing. I’d speak to the “child me” who longed for love and protection. “Talk to me, sweetie. I am here.”

This brought me to emotional self-soothing. When a child is terrified, their pain can easily spin out of control. A caring parent teaches the child to modulate their pain by comforting them with love and assurance. In the safety of loving arms, a child learns to reign in their emotions. Through example, this mechanism becomes internalized in the child and they eventually learn to soothe themselves. Emotional self-soothing is another quality I lacked as a child and needed to learn to internalize for myself.

I also needed to internalize self-compassion. My mother taught me to place the needs of others first, rather than to have compassion for myself. I learned as a child that my pain was no big deal and that I should be considerate of other people’s pain, but not of my own. While it is important to be considerate of others, consideration should not come at the expense of our own well-being.

Because as an abused child my perceptions were often blatantly denied, I needed to learn to stand firmly in my own reality, without permission from anyone else.

Although I argued that it wasn’t “right” to burn my tender hands, or rub Rob’s nose in spilled milk on the floor, or to otherwise beat and betray us, everyone I knew told me that my perceptions were wrong. Therefore, I constantly sought validation, trying to develop a frame of reference from others as to what was “right” and what was “wrong.” What we learn as children follows us into adulthood. Even as an adult, those I turned to told me that there was nothing “wrong” with the way Mom, Lou and Smokey treated Brandon, nor was there anything “wrong” with the constant presence of Lou’s firearms around my own children. Consequently, I had difficulty as an adult identifying what was and was not acceptable behavior. If I felt betrayed, and the “offender” defended himself or herself, although I argued that it wasn’t “right” to betray me, deep down I questioned whether something was wrong with me and I worried that it was indeed okay to betray me. I desperately searched for validation that I had a right to the way I felt.

Un-doing a life long mechanism is very difficult to do. Needing permission to “feel” was so deeply ingrained in me, that even if I accidentally smashed my thumb with a hammer, I needed consent to accept my pain. In other words, if I was with someone who said, “Oh, it’s no big deal,” I’d either try to “power” through the pain, or I’d argue that the injury was indeed painful, focusing on the other person’s perceptions of my experience rather than my own.

My pleas for permission to feel physical and emotional pain had left me stuck in one place. Without validation, I failed to resolve my pain and move forward. It seemed impossible to believe that my experiences and perceptions were valid when faced with denied perceptions. A strong internal parent was necessary to assure my inner child that I had a right to my hurt, anger, sadness, and fear, without arguing for that right.

During therapy, I literally needed to be taught self-compassion, self-soothing, and the validity of my perceptions in the same way a young child is taught. My therapist explained how to seek out people to receive validating and empathic responses until I could internalize them for myself, even in the face of denied perceptions.

Until people taught me what it felt like to be self-compassionate, I didn’t know that a wide range of emotions existed for me. I needed to “unlearn” the way I learned to ignore my agony. Then I needed to re-learn a healthy method of expressing my sadness. It was very important for me to learn to cry for myself and to share those tears with others, which is no easy feat. Seeking empathic people required trust, and trust didn’t come easily for me.

Trust is such a basic relationship necessity that if we can’t trust a parent to love and protect us- whom can we trust? When we have been betrayed in our most basic human relationship- and that trust is never restored – how can we learn to trust ourselves enough to trust others? I learned to trust in baby steps – sitting with my emotions and letting my feelings guide me. I needed to feel the pain of misplaced trust in order to protect myself and seek out those with whom I could trust with my feelings. If we listen closely, pain is a useful resource for protecting ourselves.


One of the most difficult aspects of motherlessness is the sense of aloneness.

I keep my father’s picture next to my bed. Sometimes, before lying down at night, I look into his eyes and remember how much he loved me. I carry my father’s voice in me – the voice of the one who looked at me with adoring eyes and asked me child-like questions, the father who loved and protected me, who nurtured, hugged, and comforted me when I cried.

I thought about the love that I give my daughters and imagined myself loved in the same fashion.

I watched the way other mothers loved their children and imagined loving myself in the same way.

I thought about those in my life who do love me – my children, friends, and my partner.

I called upon my spirituality to internalize abundant love.

God provided me with healing tears to wash away my heartache. He sent people who were willing to bear witness to my pain. God blessed me with daughters of my own so that I could experience a loving mother-daughter bond.

Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wrapped myself in a blanket and imagined God’s unconditional love surrounding me like giant hands tenderly holding me, loving me and keeping me safe.

Slowly but surely, I worked through a list of emotional deficiencies that needed filling. This was a long, frustrating, and complicated process.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse

I'm a day late out of the starting blocks; nonetheless, mile191 is the host of this months carnival!

The July theme is Freedom to Heal, offering many hopeful posts to aid in the journey!

Check it out!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Facebook and Estrangement

I often hear from people who have had a bad expeirence when they have either tried to contact, or have been contacted by an estranged family member through facebook, and then they wrestle with what to do.

The advent of many social networking sites has created a dilemma for many estranged, partially estranged, and newly reconciled family members. A common senario:

While perusing facebook, you stumble upon your estranged parent, child, or sibling. Your heart begins to race and your emotions stir like the waves of an ocean being whipped by conflicting winds. What to do? Curiosity get the better of you. Do I send a friends request? Or, not?


You receive a notification that your estranged parent, child, or sibling has sent you a friends request. After the initial shock, your mind goes into overdrive. You may be very wary and not open to reconciliation. Contact through a social networking site causes you to feel intruded upon, stalked, angry, or fearful. The simple solution is to deny the request.

At best, you may find yourself in an awkward position. Even if you are open to reconciliation, granting unrestricted access to your personal life hardly seems wise.

I know people who have begrudgingly granted the request, only to find it necessary to later "block" the family member.

Therein lies the dilemma, if you are open to attempting reconciliation, how do you safe-guard this boundary, deny the request, but still convey an openness to explore a new relationship?

Reconciliation is best attempted in baby-steps; allowing for exercising appropriate boundaries while re-building trust and redefining the relationship and level of contact. The chances for success are greater when proceeding slowly. It is very difficult to pull back when we move too fast.

As tempting as it may seem, in my humble opinion, social networking sites are not the appropriate venue to connect with estranged, or newly reconciled family members. This also appears to be the consensus with many of my counterparts.

Establishing contact through a social networking site is risky business that often results in a lose-lose situation. The person who attempts contact often feels hurt, angry, and rejected, while the one who is contacted can view the intrusion as a boundary violation.

Fortunately, my family members re-established contact privately and to this day we are not social networking "friends." This enabled me to safe-guard my boundaries and explore our relationships at my own pace. If one of my family members had sent me a "friends" request to re-establish contact, I would have felt comfortable exercising a boundary in this area by saying, "I am interested in re-establishing contact through e-mail, and by telephone; however, facebook is not a comfortable arena for me to work at rebuilding a relationship with you."