Many times, those of us who grew up with a parent with a Personality Disorder are commanded to forgive or “get over it”. This is a follow up on a couple of entries earlier I wrote on forgiveness and more forgiveness. Two interesting links about why ordering us to forgive or “get over it” can be detrimental to our healing & recovery.
Addressing childhood pain does not mean daughters are doing something wrong. It is the right thing to do. It does make a difference. The old “get over it already or the past is the past,” does not work. It’s the familiar counsel we used to give men. “Big boys don’t cry!” Where did that get us?
We all can agree that parenting is an overwhelming task and there is no handbook. But, we can learn better ways. A part of my passion is to open the discussion for mothers and daughters everywhere. Not to blame mothers. Not to blame daughters. But, by using a point of connection and a common language, the process of healing can begin.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with blaming someone who’s been abusive. Particularly a parent to a child. Children have very little choice but to stay in a home with an abusive parent until they are old enough to be on their own. Yes, many people with PDs became that way because of their own childhood abuse. That doesn’t excuse them from becoming abusers. But I do like that author acknowledges that children abused by parents with PDs should be allowed to acknowledge our pain and deal with it instead of being told “get over it”.
Society has a very different take of abusive mothers than say, husbands. Many men who go on to abuse their SOs were either abused or witnessed abuse as children. Do we use that as an excuse for their behavior? Do we use that as an excuse to tell the person being abused that they need to get over it? Or that he loves her very much? We did in the past, but the thinking on that has changed. And it’s time it changed for female abusers as well, be they in family relationships or romantic ones.
I particularly like this part of it of Beth McHugh’s article:
In fact, therapy usually begins in a gradual realization that the client has been deceived, used and made to feel guilty useless, unattractive, unwanted and certainly a victim of the most extreme conditional love that exists. It take time in therapy for the client to give up the hope that one day their mother or father will see them as loving caring, talented, worthwhile people.
When this process finally happens, then the client makes headway in therapy. Once the truth is seen and the lies exposed — lies that the client has believed about themselves all their lives, then the anger sets in, if it hasn’t already.
All this, too, is normal, and at this time during recovery there is no place for forgiveness. I never include forgiveness as a necessary part of the therapeutic process because, the reality is that some parents are simply too hard to forgive and to put that load on an already struggling victim of a narcissist is asking too much. But sometimes, towards the end of therapy, some clients who have worked through their insecurities, their low self esteem, their anger, and their sadness get to a point where there are able to look at their parent as profoundly damaged and therefore unable to love them. The lack of love was not directed at the individual child themselves, it was directed at the world, but the innocent and defenseless child copped it because narcissistic people are by definition weak and so a child is an easy target.
Well said. I think too often, there’s a focus on telling people who’ve been abused by parents with personality disorders that we shouldn’t be angry. We should forgive the abuser, let the past be in the past.
I’ve mentioned this before. When someone genuninely changes their behavior, it is possible to let the past be in the past and forgive. My father was an alcoholic, who would sometimes subject us all to drunken rages, sometimes endangering our safety while driving drunk and threatening to crash the car. But, when he finally got sober, he took the amends step seriously. He apologized for what he’d done and he changed his behavior. Sadly, it was only a few years before he died. But I look at it as many people don’t get that kind of acknowledgment and validation from their parents that the behavior was wrong/abusive. I did and it really helped with healing. We were able to make the most out of the limited time he had left because he took that step.
My mother in contrast, is still prone to verbal rages, shaming and berating. And for some reason, she would target me more than anyone else, at least my dad was an equal opportunity rager! 🙂 She improved for a bit when we reconciled after our first estrangement, but then it was back to old habits. Granted, she didn’t get physical any more and there was less screaming (more snide comments). But she was still emotionally abusing me well up until our estrangement.
Letting someone emotionally abuse me makes healing all but impossible. I had to remove myself from the situation to heal. Cutting off contact with me was the best gift she could have given me. Obviously, as my recent letters show, I still have a lot of anger over the loss of my sibling relationship. I forgive her for it, but I’m still angry if that makes sense.
Now, just because I feel my anger doesn’t mean I think I should go expressing it all over the place. One of the reasons I write so much here when I’m angry is it allows me to get it out in a way that doesn’t hurt other people or myself. I’d love to post all of this on Facebook for example and expose her for what she is. But she’d probably deny it and some people would probably believe her because she was smart enough to do most of her abusing in private where it was only us or her enablers. Plus, I really think she believes on some level her denials. I’ve read that people with PDs sometimes dissociate. I think she may have done so while dishing out the emotional abuse. Facing the reality of what she’s done may be too much for her to handle.
So instead I post here. I confide in the few friends who understand or at least are willing to try. It’s a small group, but I’m lucky to have them.
And I do try to watch my anger to make sure it’s not coming out in inappropriate ways. Honestly, in my experience, I’ve found the kumbaya forgiveness police are some of the most passive-aggressive hostile people around. I used to work with one at an old job. She was so afraid of being angry that she used to pretend she was one of us when she was angry. But the rest of the time, she was what I’d refer to as “faux granola” (no insult to real granola people who are generally pretty good people). She’d talk a lot about “sensing anger” if any one was angry, as if it were a bad thing, but there were all sorts of passive aggressive moves on her part and she once threw a phone and called the person at the other end a b****. She pulled the imitation tactic on me once when she was having computer problems. Saying, “let me take a page from [whenthescapegoatquits’ real name] book” She imitated some of the choicer expressions I’d said when I was getting the blue screen of death during a rush work project. She then gave me this nasty look and asked if she did me sufficient justice. I told her “you’re doing fine being angry on your own”. She didn’t appreciate that.
I’m not saying that cursing when one gets the blue screen of death during a rush work project is an ideal reaction. It’s not. I’d much prefer to be the cool cucumber under pressure model than that. It’s a goal I aspire too. But it sure is a helluva a lot better than projecting anger onto others and taking it out on them.
I’m not perfect, I do occasionally lash out at other people. But I do try to recognize it and when I do, stop it and apologize. I look at my behavior to see what set me off and try to learn from it so it won’t happen again. I’m getting increasingly better at it. People with this kind of anger who aren’t aware of it often lash out at the wrong people for the wrong reasons. When it’s severe or frequent enough, it can be abusive.
Let’s face it, being abused by someone with a PD is anger making as well as crazy making. As much as we want to pray, think or meditate it away, it’s going to be there. So let’s focus on how we can constructively challenge it rather than trying to bottle it up. Eventually it’s going to come out. Let it be in positive ways, such as creating awareness of abuse by people with PDs or art or music. Rather than letting ourselves become abusive to others our ourselves.
Also, I don’t think anger and/or deciding not to reconcile are mutually exclusive to forgiveness. You can still be angry at someone and decide to remain no contact yet forgive them. I forgive my mother because she is one seriously messed up individual, some of it due to awful circumstances beyond her control. But I can still be angry at the rift and damage she’s wrought with her emotionally abusive treatment of me and the smear campaign with my sister-in-law/brother. It is possible to experience both at the same time.