I found this website and wanted to share it because it’s insightful with respect to physical ailments having emotional roots. You can click on the listed disorders and ailments to learn the most likely emotional cause associated with it. After going through the list and checking the ones I had I found it rang true for myself anyway. You may not find that the case for yourself but the emotional causes are interesting and healing affirmations are offered as well for each ailment.
Experiencing trauma can lead to shame depending on the nature of the trauma endured. When we’re filled with shame we retreat inside ourselves and fear having others know what we’ve been through; as though we were somehow to blame even though we intellectually know that’s not the case. It’s ironic really because if you experienced trauma from a person or group of people, they, not you should be feeling the shame. Yet they lack the moral conscience for this so the survivor of the trauma ends up with it instead. This seems terribly unfair in my opinion. But we see it all the time with abuse survivors; they think they were at fault somehow no matter what their head tells them. It’s difficult to reason with your emotions because they aren’t reasonable! So you have to muddle through the emotional baggage ’til your head and heart are on the same page. Not an easy task no matter who you are.
In my experience, speaking about my traumatic experiences sort of relieves the pressure inside me; it’s like the steam from a kettle being released. For all the years I carried around the shame of my past I believed keeping it to myself would be easier but it wasn’t. Instead I had unrelenting depression and anxiety never feeling at peace for very long. When I started psychotherapy I didn’t talk much about the abuse I’d suffered because I couldn’t allow it to surface. I thought if I did then I might fall apart (which I did later). So I wasted years talking about my symptoms never discussing the causes of my chronic depression and anxiety/panic disorder. All this because I carried so much shame inside me that I figured no one could accept me due to abuse. How sad that I had so little self worth and love for myself that I couldn’t imagine telling anyone what I’d been through. I’d also minimised what I’d experienced a great deal too so felt unjustified in feeling the way I did; like we need to have reasons for our emotions! Sometimes they are irrational but we aren’t robots so that’s just how it has to be.
When we don’t confront our past it tends to show itself in maladaptive patterns until we recognise where they’re coming from. For some this means abusing one’s self or others so it can be serious. Once the trauma can be remembered and processed it allows us to stop looking for distractions. Our minds don’t have to spend so much energy on repressing what happened to us. If you’re like me sharing what happened to us can be scary or even threatening; yet that’s what’s needed for one to end the behaviours destroying us or other people if we perpetuate the hurt inside us onto others. You can’t be free ’til the secrets are outside of you because that’s what loosens our abuser(s) hold on us. They wanted us to keep quiet and hope we took responsibility for what was never our fault to begin with. If we had had the coping tools to know better we would have done better but most abused children aren’t lucky enough to have the resources or simply are too young to process what happened in a meaningful way.
Ideally, our abuser(s) would recognise what they did to us as wrong and make restitution but too often this never happens. Usually it doesn’t happen because the abuser was also abused and can’t face their own painful past, it takes courage to confront painful memories and process our hurt emotions. So sometimes our abuser(s) just aren’t courageous enough to deal with their own pain and continue to make others suffer. Or maybe the abuser(s) aren’t alive so restitution isn’t an option. But you can still face your pain and know you are making a difference because you won’t be perpetuating abuse/pain onto more people. In fact you can also come to appreciate you are stronger than your abuser(s) because you’re choosing to confront your pain. This might also be an opportunity for you to see that your abuser(s) felt so awful they couldn’t bear to face what happened to them so took the ‘easy route’ by hurting other people. It really isn’t easier to hurt other people than face your own pain but I think it takes less effort because it doesn’t require that you challenge yourself. For that reason I consider it the ‘easier route’.
Anyhow back to my main argument of talking about your trauma or ‘spilling the beans’; personally, I prefer ‘airing the family’s dirty laundry’ as my preferred term because it just sounds ‘spicier’ and a bit titillating! But I digress… Once I finally told my therapist about the sexual, emotional, psychological, physical abuse and neglect I felt free. The shame had begun to dissipate like morning fog when you live by the coast. I still felt some shame when I had to hide my past in front of other family but it was beginning to be more manageable. Once you open the proverbial can of worms there’s no putting the lid back on. The secrets you protected from your conscious mind won’t be forced back into hiding. You can try to deny it happened for awhile but usually the truth wins because you can’t really ‘unknow’ what you know once you’ve confronted it. This is a good thing even though it doesn’t feel in the least bit good to begin with! I felt so awful I reverted to my eating disorder I’d been in remission from for a couple of years because starving temporarily numbed me and took my focus off the new awareness I had concerning my past. I think it’s fair to say any addictions you had in remission may flare up temporarily until you can ‘digest’ what you’ve learned. Mine gave me a respite from having to face things I didn’t feel capable handling. In essence it was easier for me to deal with my eating disorder and try to manage that then it was the horrible reality of my mother sexually abusing me.
I’m feeling stronger these days internally but it’s been four years since I ‘discovered’ the type of abuse I’d been through and I haven’t been employed the entire time either. In fact I quit paid employment because I felt I’d been delivered such a huge psychological blow I couldn’t possibly continue my job. For quite awhile I worried about what I would end up doing with myself since I was no longer employed or a university student. My identity came crashing down. The pieces were flimsy to begin with so it’s likely for the best I had to reconstruct my idea of who I was again. What I’ve discovered along the way is you’re a lot stronger than you ever imagined. I didn’t think I could survive the distress I was in yet I did and I am healthier now than I have ever been. Yes, I am still unemployed but people should not base their value on their employment status. You are not your job, car, house, or any other material/external thing. It took me until recently to realise I could be worthy as a person without a paid job. I was always brought up to believe you had to be educated and wealthy to be worthy but that’s not true at all. What’s in your bank account doesn’t make you wealthy because wealth ought to be measured by happiness and love, not dollars and cents (or Euros, Yen, Pounds etc.). One can give back to society and/or their community through volunteer work or helping family. I won’t elaborate on this though because it’s too much for a post meant to discuss trauma and shame. Perhaps I’ll do a post on economics another day!
What do you think about the ‘truth setting you free’? Does sharing what happened to us with someone we trust heal us from our shame? Have you experienced abuse/trauma you kept hidden from others (perhaps yourself as well) then discovered/shared it and experienced relief?
©Natalya, 2014. Reflections On Life Thus Far®
You can see I posted a link directly above my writing that is about transgenerational or intergenerational trauma. Although it is about Holocaust trauma it is easily generalised to other groups having experienced long periods of trauma. For my situation I am using the term to refer to childhood abuse passed down through the generations. In the linked article it talks about the unconscious and unwitting process of the traumatic transmission to the next generation. This means parents are unaware they are passing their traumatic experiences onto their children because they have not consciously dealt with their grief over having experienced horrible things. I really feel the article opened my eyes to how I ‘picked up’ on my mother’s trauma even though she avoided speaking about it when I was very young.
Growing up I was abused and traumatised by my mother. Much of it happened unconsciously in so far as mom didn’t recognise her behaviour as abusive due to her own experiences. Usually children think their parents are perfect but I was only too aware mine were anything but that. They did their best but you can’t give what you don’t have. I was long aware mom was treating me badly which caused me to have a lot of anxiety as a child. I’m not sure how I ended up without that protective buffer most kids have that allows them to think its their fault not the parent’s. In any case I didn’t have that and felt very depressed and anxious growing up. It wasn’t easy because I reacted with anger to my situation but was basically told this was inappropriate; I beg to differ! From my perspective the anger was more than appropriate considering what I was being subjected to on a regular basis. It was not my fault I happened to be the poor kid that shouts “the Emperor has no clothes!” and my family didn’t appreciate my honesty.
Most kids learn to cope with their situation through denial or some other defense mechanism like repression or the like. I didn’t seem to have the capacity for this so went emotionally numb instead. It was the only way for me to cope that didn’t involve me lying to myself about my family situation. By 18 I’d already attempted suicide seriously three times and was on antidepressants. I also had an eating disorder that helped me feel like I had a bit of control along with the side effect of leaving me emotionally numb. Following my suicide attempts I entered psychotherapy for the first time and never looked back.
Unfortunately my first few years in therapy were spent on trying to get me stabilised from my depression, anxiety and suicidal impulses. Had I known about transgenerational trauma, boundaries and female to female sexual abuse I might have fared slightly better. If I’d known of these things I wouldn’t have felt so ashamed for being something of an emotional train wreck. To my mind I felt I must have been overreacting since I hadn’t been sexually abused by a man, physically beaten or anything I could pinpoint anyhow. As I stated I knew nothing of transgenerational trauma transmission, nor boundaries. Thus, I continued to feel ashamed for being “weak” thinking I’d “only” been spanked, slapped on the hands and endured messy living conditions. It wasn’t until years later I realised mom had been a compulsive hoarder. I did know she had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder though as I’d come across the disorder in a book when I was 17. The impact of her NPD on me however was unknown until I came across another book in my early 20s on the disorder’s effect on children of NPD parents. That opened my eyes and made me feel much less crazy for feeling the way I did. I won’t bore you further since this is meant to be a post not a book! LOL
Transgenerational trauma transmission was first identified in survivours of the Holocaust but has since been applied to those in other groups as well, notably Aboriginals in North America and genocide survivours. The phenomenon also applies to families where abuse has been passed down to subsequent generations. The German psychoanalyst Alice Miller described the phenomenon in her term ‘repetition compulsion’; this applies to abused children having their own children and repeating the abuse unconsciously on them. In this way the abuse is literally passed down from generation to generation until someone has enough insight to get help to stop transmission. Incidentally, Alice Miller is an excellent author with lots of books available on child abuse. The only complaint I have is she doesn’t address compassion for one’s self or parents. Otherwise she is excellent in her championing of abused children through her books emphasising truth above all else.
Can you identify transgenerational trauma in your family?
©Natalya Lyubov, 2014. Reflections On Life Thus Far®
http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/15/3/172.full (HTML version)
I read the above linked article (8 pages) and found it really interesting in its exploration of PTSD and complex PTSD. There is a smaller focus on Borderline Personality Disorder but the article focuses primarily on ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ PTSD and the ICD-10/DSM-V exclusion of complex PTSD as a formally recognised diagnosis. Given I was diagnosed with BPD at 18 and PTSD in my mid 20s I was interested in what the article had to say, especially since it explored it through an attachment lens. As you can probably tell I agree with attachment theory so had no ideological issues with the journal article. It’s a positive read and doesn’t ‘bash’ anyone with the discussed conditions.
The journal is open access (you don’t need to pay) for articles 3 years or older. The one I linked to is from 2009.
Great post on dealing with trauma even though the title doesn’t say so.
I’ve been thinking lately about the annoying phenomenon of people taking a maxim or truism and not considering how
they’re reducing a helpful bit of information to absurdity. For example, take the maxim or phrase “leave the past in the past and move on”. A fine piece of advice in many different circumstances but NOT every circumstance! Another is “don’t dwell on the past”. Again, perfectly good advice and apt in lots of ways but not in EVERY circumstance. When you have been abused as a child hearing such phrases are invalidating and unhelpful to say the least. We don’t need condemnation for not healing ourselves in a New York minute! Healing from abuse and trauma takes time, especially when it happened in childhood. People need to respect this fact and not add guilt to our burdens by telling us some variation of “move on”.
Generally when people use these phrases they are trying to either make us feel better or make themselves feel less uncomfortable in our presence, or both. It is not a case of people lacking a heart it’s just that they haven’t learnt how to feel compassion for themselves so can’t offer it to others. The best you’ll get from a lot of people is sympathy. Lots of people are empathetic and have compassion but these aren’t the people you end up dealing with when you’re hurting! Call it Murphy’s Law or bad luck, either way it doesn’t lead to a place of understanding.
My grandmother’s funeral is today and I’m not attending because I didn’t love her and am angry she stayed married to an incestuous pedophile. She never attempted to make amends in the years after my mother was forced to leave home either. My grandmother chose to take her husband’s side and have my mother leave the family home when she was a teen. Mom was very traumatized and never got better which lead to her abusing my sister and I. Now I am supposed to just pretend nothing happened and attend the woman’s funeral because it’s the “right thing to do”? I don’t think so!
Perhaps someone more spiritually evolved would be able to “forgive and forget” but I am not that evolved. Instead, I am choosing to stay home from my grandmother’s funeral because I will not participate in more deception and phoniness. The aunts that will be there are the ones who chose to ignore their inner child’s pleas for compassion after being abused, instead opting for a mask they could put on for the world to appear “normal”. I tried to wear a similar mask but it always fit poorly and would fall off. Sadly, people with better fitting masks took the opportunity to make sure I felt inferior-but no more! I am not going to force myself into a mold so other people feel comfortable. It is not my problem if people end up being uncomfortable in the presence of authenticity.
I guess I should try to address reducing arguments or tenets to absurdity since it’s the title of my post. Well here’s one that bugs the Hell out of me “treat everyone equally”. So I can hear the protests already and you wondering what on earth is my problem with such a fine ideal as equality. The issue is not everyone has the same abilities and conditions meaning we are not equal in anymore than a human/spiritual sense. Yes, we’re equal as far as human beings but past that we stop being equal. After our inherent human equality there’s inequality of sex, race, economic status, etc. If I am economically rich and have white skin I have more privilege than someone economically poor-especially if they happen to be a person of colour. Add in gender and dis-ability and the playing field we are on is not even close to level.
We are all unique and have different talents but we can’t penalize people for systemic racism and sexism or preference for materially wealthy people. I do not like the notion of treating everyone equally because we haven’t all got the same advantages. This is the reason we have affirmative action policies in workplaces and schools. Disabled people and people of colour have racism and ableism to contend with that able people and white people don’t. Even if you are an able white woman you do not have the same advantages an able white man has. Able bodied white men of middle and upper classes have power the rest of us don’t.
My favourite term in the discussion of equality is “false parallels”. False parallels occur when we look at someone of colour who decides to cater only to other people of colour and white people complain it’s racism. It is NOT racism because people of colour don’t hold the power white people have. Thus, persons of colour catering to others like them are simply ensuring they don’t have to compete with those who already have an advantage in society from their white skin. A similar idea is all women’s clubs where men complain of sexism. Like people of colour, women hold less power than men so women organizing a club only for women is not sexist. It is sexist for the group in power (men) to have an all mens’ club excluding women, provided the club is something women could participate in. I am not suggesting we start having segregated this and that either, I am merely pointing out the absurdity people engage in when they condemn minorities for wanting to have their own spaces and be a part of the larger society too. It isn’t preferential treatment for minorities*.
*Minorities are people belonging to groups they have no control over such as their race, gender or sexual orientation. It is nothing to do with statistical figures or which group has the most members. It is about the power held by a group in relation to another. Vulnerable persons fall under a similar classification in that they are vulnerable in relation to another without their “handicap” (I am using handicap here to mean whatever makes the individual vulnerable, be it their age, disability, physical or mental status, etc.).
Well now that I have written this disjointed post I’m going to publish it for your reading confusion! 😉
Well, as you can see from my title I have been thinking about denial and what role responsibility and or culpability have to play in it. Some of you may know from reading my posts that my family is quite dysfunctional. Now some will argue that labels aren’t beneficial and there’s too much emphasis on psychologizing certain events. But if trauma and abuse are what happened then who is it benefiting to not label it as such? Am I doing myself any favours when I deny myself validation that certain events took place in my life? Or am I merely making others uncomfortable who don’t wish to take responsibility for things that happened? My counsellor suggests when my family tries to sweep things under the proverbial rug that they are opting out of taking responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof).
Whilst it may seem to some that it’s better to let “sleeping dogs lie”; there are those of us unwilling to live less authentically. Why should I try to convince myself I’m better off not remembering or processing traumas just so others in my family are able to be undisturbed? Perhaps for less traumatic episodes in our lives it makes sense to try to forget or not “dwell” on it but childhood abuse and trauma are not easily forgotten, nor should they be. For when we forget the things that happened to us as children we are more than primed and ready to repeat those things. Alice Miller, the psychoanalyst and author of many psychology books, has referred to this as repetition compulsion. I’m not sure if it is her term but I read it in her books so will attribute it to her for now. Anyhow, my point is when we allow denial to be our coping mechanism for abuses and traumas we suffered as children we’re setting the stage to repeat those abuses on our own children or other vulnerable people. By not facing what happened in the past we are not only unconscious of what happened to us-but we become unaware when we act out the same or similar abuses onto others.
her father. Mom knew she had been abused but developed a heavy wall of dissociation in her conscious awareness to function “normally” day to day. Nobody ever diagnosed my mom as having DID or MPD but it would be more of a shock to me if I were told she *didn’t* have it than did. As a child I recognized when my mother was “someone else”. Sometimes that meant she was unaware of what she was doing and it was useless to try telling her later that she’d done something as she would not remember it. I also developed an ability to dissociate from the things that happened to me and managed to repress the memories for a long time until I felt safe to acknowledge them again. For me, this meant that I was cut off from my sexuality. It was easier to be asexual than put myself through the minefield of sexual/intimate relationships.
I’m 31 now and have never had more than a fairly chaste kiss. In today’s hypersexualized world I am an antiquated dinosaur relic of bygone eras. I could easily join a convent or find myself in a museum as a rare species! Yes, I am poking fun at myself but what I say is not far from the reality. Whilst I’m educated and aware of more than someone would have been in the Victorian era about sex I’m still an oddity in today’s culture. I don’t have religion to explain my oddness either; no, I am not asexual anymore but I’m still abstinate. All this because of my mother sexually abusing me due to her denial of what happened to her through dissociation.
Had my mother’s family not lived so brilliantly in denial my mother might have had a fighting chance at becoming healthy. Instead they shunned her and pretended the problem was her’s alone to deal with. I understand sexual abuse wasn’t dealt with the same way as it is today back in the 1960s but they couldn’t have done worse if they tried! My mother was thrown out into the world an angry,hurt young woman with no support. She managed to find her way as all survivours do but not without mishaps.
Responsibility can be a ‘loaded word’. Some may think we need to accept responsibility for ourselves 100% of the time NO exceptions. Well, I beg to differ. I accept responsibility for myself-yes-no arguments there, BUT we are only responsible for our present feelings/thoughts and actions. Other people’s actions that harmed us in some manner should not be our responsibility. In such cases it would be more appropriate to focus on how we feel in relation to the actions of others and let that be our responsibility. I am responsible for how I act/feel/think at any given moment but not for what others did to me. I can decide to hold onto beliefs and feelings that aren’t serving me in a beneficial manner and that is my responsibility; that is, if I create further suffering for myself by not letting go of feelings/thoughts, etc. that happened in the past due to other people’s actions, then I am responsible. But only for PRESENT conditions. Of course if I behaved badly in the past and caused someone else pain that, too, is my responsibility. What is NOT my responsibility is how other people perceive me. I will never be able to control anyone other than myself. Thus, I can only operate out of the understanding that I create my own suffering based on what I focus on.
The issue of course with responsibility is that other people’s actions do affect us(especially as children) so it is one thing to tell someone to “move on” regarding an event that took place in your adult years, and quite another to say the same thing concerning childhood traumas. People want to treat situations and people in a uniform manner that isn’t taking into consideration other factors. Other factors such as what age you were when the event took place and who the other(s) involved were in relation to you, among other things. Instead, people just jump for the easiest, quickest route to a solution that minimizes *their* discomfort. Never mind the suffering of the individual who endured the abuse/trauma as a child. This is what my mother’s side of the family did and still does. They minimized my mother’s suffering and I have not even shared my own pain/suffering with them because I can foresee their response already and it isn’t a validating one.
Nobody deserves to be abused especially children. I am sick of attitudes that reinforce shame for the survivours of abuse and praise or valorize the abuser(s). Okay, perhaps praise and valorization are not the common responses but it can feel that way if you’re the survivour. My family talk of my dead mom as some sort of hero that completely ignores any of her shortcomings. Of course we all have shortcomings and there is a tendency in Christian believers to not wish to talk ill of the dead. I understand that but it doesn’t make one feel very good when you have to hear nothing but praise for the person who abused you as a child. It feels downright horrible and makes one (well me anyhow) feel worthless in comparison to the abuser. No, my mother wasn’t abusive 100% of the time but it doesn’t mean I am going to whitewash her in my memory either to suit my family. My family, who incidentally, are filled with uneasy feelings of guilt over not doing what they should have when they had the ability to; such as offer support to my mother and actually believe her when she told them about the abuse she suffered growing up. Instead, they have retreated to their favourite vacation spot Denial. In fact, I’d wager a bet and suggest they vacation in Denial more than they live in Responsibility.
Am I being uncharitable with my family? They are, after all, family. But I never chose them (unless I chose them before I incarnated in my present form). Allegedly, my pedophile maternal grandfather wanted children and my mother also wanted children (badly). Was this because they both knew they wanted control and power over smaller, helpless individuals subject to their whims? I doubt it. That would have meant they held some consciousness over their predilection for wielding sexual power over children. Due to never knowing my maternal grandfather I can’t comment on what was the case for him; but my mother, I believe, had no *conscious* awareness she would end up sexually abusing her children, nor did she even recognize when she was doing it. That is the level of denial she had around sexual abuse. She told me that only men sexually abused children so I am imagining in her mind she wasn’t doing anything wrong. Sexual abuse, to my mother, had a very distinct phenotype and she didn’t resemble it (in her mind). Thus, whatever she did to my sister and I was all Kosher (in her mind). Amazing what we can convince ourselves of when we’re in denial, isn’t it? (that’s a rhetorical question).
We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge, right? So being or staying in denial is detrimental to one’s personal growth. Depending on what it is we are in denial about it can have devastating consequences for not just us but possibly countless others. In sexual abuse, in particular, if it is denied then you are almost certainly going to end up either repeating the abuse or becoming shut down sexually. Of course therapy can help remedy these issues but you first need to become conscious enough of the problem to want to work on it.
I don’t expect my family will change anytime soon. As far as I know I am the only one in therapy apart from an aunt whom I don’t have much contact with. Her and my mom had a “falling out” over something decades ago and never managed to resolve it so the only time I met this aunt was at my mom’s funeral. She seems to be more conscious of the abuse that occurred than the others are willing to admit though from what I know of her. I felt like she was the most authentic one out of my mom’s siblings. Aside from her the rest don’t seem likely to change their ways dramatically. In fairness to them they aren’t horrible people just ones refusing to process a very painful past. I can’t blame them for that. They don’t have to take responsibility for acknowledging abuse happened but I also can’t be comfortable around them either; that is until or unless they are willing to concede abuse happened and it was traumatic for those involved (the survivours not the abusers).
My grandmother is now close to death and I suspect it may make for a difficult month for me because my mother also died this month five years ago. I would like to be able to forgive my grandmother like I forgave my mom but that took me years to do. I’m not sure what kind of benefit there would be to forgiving my grandmother anyhow. My only feelings for her are largely ambivalence or indifference; otherwise I don’t really think about her a lot. Perhaps this has to do with never developing an emotional attachment to the grandmother in the first place; thus, there are no actual deep seated feelings awaiting my recognition and healing. What is there to forgive when you have a connection to someone at a primarily intellectual or cognitive level? Sure, I am angry about what she did to my mother but I don’t feel this has impacted me on a regular basis in any sort of negative manner. Or, I could just be in denial.
What’s your take on denial and/or responsibility concerning child abuse or trauma?
©Natalya Lyubov, 2012-2013.
The Blogging for Peace topic this month is ‘forgiveness‘ so I’m going to write about how I forgave my mom and what it did for me. The Bloggers 4 Peace badge is on the right hand side if you want to click on it to be a part of this new development.
I never thought I could forgive my mother for the abuse she’d inflicted on me when I was a child. The very idea of forgiveness used to upset me and make me irritated, if not defensive. I did try to embrace the concept at various times but they never took hold for me. Instead I’d just get more angry. How does one forgive someone when they won’t acknowledge their wrong doing and the hurtful impact it had on you? This is something I wrestled with for years. People I heard or read about forgiving people who’d done terrible things to them always baffled me. How did they manage to find it in their heart to let go of the anger, hurt and pain their abuser caused?
Well, as some of you know my mother died four years ago, that is when I started healing. The forgiveness though took longer. It wasn’t until she’d been dead for two years I could even imagine forgiving her in any imaginable way. So I meditated on my anger, hurt and sadness until I found compassion for MYSELF. Once I’d found compassion for myself I started to notice less anger inside of me. The indescribable feelings of rage toward my mother slowly started diminishing over the next year or so. Then there came a point when I noticed I didn’t feel anger or resentment toward my mother for what she’d done to me when I was a child. Nothing had changed from my past but in other ways everything had changed. My mother was dead and I had managed to develop a very real sense of compassion for both myself and my mother.
Not having my mother around anymore gave me perspective and freedom to take an objective view of my mother’s actions, including the severe abuses she’d suffered as a child herself for which she never got treatment for. I saw my mother as a child and imagined-then felt the fear she must have felt experiencing the abuse she experienced. None of this diminished my own abuse or suffering in any way but I felt empathy for my mother. She was a child once and didn’t deserve to be abused anymore than myself or another child. When I was able to actually put myself in my mother’s shoes I found it difficult to retain my anger and resentment I’d felt toward her. How could I HATE a person who had suffered so greatly that she developed severe dissociative symptoms, including widespread amnesia for events and things she did and said?
I fully understand how people will perhaps wonder why I forgave her and maybe think I let her off the ‘hook’ for her actions. But that isn’t what I did. I have not erased the memories of abuse I endured but I have learned to adjust my perspective. I’ve re-framed the narrative of abuse I had constructed around my mother and my suffering to include her own suffering along side mine. We both suffered. She had the theoretical ability to get treatment but in reality her ability to go through therapy would have been disrupted to a large extent by her pervasive amnesia around events in her life; as well as a widespread sense of mistrust toward authority figures. I had a large dose of mistrust toward authority figures also but managed to persevere with therapy for years until I felt a degree of relief.
We can’t compare ourselves to other people though. I’ve learned it does nobody any favours when we compare our experiences contending that because we were able to do xyz, thus so and so should also be able to do xyz. But we are all different and have so many variables between us that it’s unfair to say someone is less than us if they couldn’t do something we managed to do. We will never know 100% of what someone else’s life has been like so what gives us the right to think we can judge another person? Perhaps we can judge the behaviour but NOT the person themselves. That is not fair.
By holding onto the anger after we’ve been wronged by someone we are allowing them to continue wronging us. We’re giving up our personal power by holding onto our resentment over whatever someone did that hurt us. Maybe they will never apologize or think what they did was harmful. That means the onus is on us to release ourselves from the pain. No, we aren’t excusing the behaviour when forgiving or letting go of our less positive emotions toward someone. We’re simply allowing a space to emerge where we can view the situation with greater clarity. We can stop hanging onto everything negative connected to the action(s) of the abuser/wrong doer. When we let go of unwanted emotions we are giving ourselves a gift. The gift is emotional freedom. A great weight is lifted from our shoulders and we get to feel lighter from the inside out when we totally release ourselves from resentment, hurt, anger and sadness.
I felt that I had forgiven my mother last year, yet on the anniversary of her death in October I felt anger, and feelings of heaviness. It seems forgiveness hadn’t taken place totally. So I experienced a period of darkness for a month or two. Then I emerged feeling greater awareness and empathy for my mother. These feelings signaled to me I’d released myself totally from resentment. Prior to her anniversary I’d felt I had already forgiven her. I felt lighter and didn’t feel constantly angry when I thought about her. But I still held onto some rather natural and understandable anger considering the situation. This unsettled me but I explored the feelings and did my best to offer myself compassion for not being a Saint! It eventually worked as I gave up the need to be Mother Teresa and embraced my flaws. Three months into the new year I can honestly say I don’t feel resentful or angry toward my mother for her actions toward me. I think I needed to face the fact my mother wasn’t capable of being the mother I wanted her to be. She couldn’t even be close to it but I recognized she had strengths and qualities that were admirable. She wasn’t pure evil. Nobody is PURELY evil. Even dictators, fascists, and war lords have redeeming attributes if we overlook their immensely disturbing behaviours. My mother was never a dictator or fascist so she already had something positive going for her there!
There is much to be gained in the process of forgiveness. It is a process much like grief is. We are grieving a loss of sorts too when we accept we are unlikely to ever receive an apology for what was done to us. But if we can remind ourselves that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily have to involve letting the person who hurt us know we forgive them then it is not as bad. After all, who wants to tell someone they forgive them if the person doesn’t even care to acknowledge they hurt you somehow?
The only necessary step to forgiveness, in my opinion, is allowing yourself to be free. You don’t need to forget what was done to you either. I believe the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ is not terribly helpful in cases where you’ve been badly hurt by someone and they don’t apologize for it. Rather, what I see as forgiveness is letting go of negative emotions that keep you connected to the abuser/wrong doer. Having compassion for yourself and realizing you did everything you could at the time to avoid the mistreatment or abuse is helpful; or perhaps you need to forgive yourself if you feel you didn’t do everything you could have at the time. Again, have compassion for yourself. Once you find that deep well within yourself of compassion directed toward YOURSELF first and foremost, extending it to whomever hurt you will come much easier to you.
As with anything new to us forgiving will likely take time and not be accomplished tidily or quickly, that’s okay. Just continue being kind to yourself. Continue showing yourself the love and kindness you would your best friend or a small child or cherished furry companion when they’ve ‘messed up’. Forgiving is as much about us as it is the other person (s). We did not ask to be abused or hurt but we can choose to release ourselves from any lingering feelings of resentment, malice, or pain. Our abuse happened in the past-or if it’s still present in your life make every effort to remove yourself from the situation to the best of your ability, then let it stay there in the past. Forgiveness is not easy when it involves major traumas, heck sometimes it’s hard to forgive little things if we aren’t overly charitable! Nonetheless, it’s totally possible and does your mind a world of good. You’ll feel so much better once you have fully moved forward from the suffering. It will allow you to have more energy for more important areas of your life too once you aren’t consumed by your negative emotions.
Be gentle with yourself when you attempt forgiving someone for a past hurt. If you haven’t been able to get the response from them you hoped for it is your job to move on. Don’t allow someone to keep hurting you when you are away from the situation. Show yourself the loving kindness (compassion) you deserve and release yourself from the pain. Forgiveness is for you, as you are the one living with the hurt, the abuser likely feels nothing. Take your power back. Compassion grows the more we practice giving it to ourselves and others. Water the seeds of compassion and watch them grow.
©Natalya & Reflections On Life Thus Far, 2013.
http://www.janinafisher.com/pdfs/dissociation.pdf “Dissociative Phenomena in the everyday lives of Trauma Survivors”
http://www.janinafisher.com/pdfs/trauma.pdf “Sensorimotor Approaches to Trauma Treatment”
http://www.janinafisher.com/pdfs/attachment.pdf “Attachment as a Sensorimotor Experience: The Use of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy”
http://www.janinafisher.com/resources.php Janina Fisher, PhD Trauma Therapist-this is her informative website.
I thought I’d share these links to well written articles on trauma by Dr. Janina Fisher, a trauma therapist. Hope you find them interesting. I also included her website.
Tomorrow’s portfolio workshop session I am attending requires me to have some homework done. I’m supposed to start from the year I was born and finish with the present year. Each year should have something next to it like an event or some type of memory you have or have been told about that year. Yesterday I started with the year I was born (1982) and got as far as 2003 before having to leave the rest for today. It was really overwhelming seeing all the things that had happened in my life. I’ve got my own memories from age 2-3 and on so only had to use stuff that was told to me for ’82, ’83 and some of ’84. Most involved trauma of some sort so the process of chronicling my life year by year was not fun or easy. Apparently the process must be to have us examine what’s occurred over our lifetime in a compact, tidy manner. Perhaps we’re supposed to see everything we’ve lived through and realize we have resources we didn’t realize we had, or skills we didn’t know of until we wrote it down. The only thing I’ve discovered, at this point, is I have had a number of sh*tty years with very few decent ones. Lets just say this timeline won’t be going with me on any job interviews!