Forgiveness and Anger

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. 

Motherhood & Child Abuse: An Oxymoron by Karyl McBride

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. 

Forgiving Your Narcissistic Parent by Beth McHugh

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.

15 thoughts on “Forgiveness and Anger

  1. Great post!! I am currently in the anger phase, and I heartily agree that asking a person who is in this phase of healing to forgive is too much. I believe that so much realization is occuring and a ton of processing has to happen before any mention of forgiveness can occur. Just my two cents. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge our anger. And I think it’s really unfair of the forgiveness police to try to dictate how and when we should forgive and/or let go of anger. It’s completely normal to be angry about being abused. Also, many of us were raised in environments where we weren’t allowed to be angry or sad. Our parents didn’t necessarily know how to handle those feelings either. So we never learned. It’s kind of like expecting someone who was never taught to add & subtract to figure out calculus on the fly.

    I think it just makes so much more sense to acknowledge that anger is normal and work on processing it constructively so as not to hurt oneself or others. And forgiveness is really up to the person who was abused to determine if he or she wants to give it and if so, at what pace. The abuser and 3rd parties demanding it is merely a form of re-victimization.

  3. PS Val, I know what you mean about a ton of processing going on. I thought most of what went on was my fault. Even the most mundane things are now being refiltered and processed. Someone in my field was looking for a home for his 2 dogs. I posted the photos, etc. on my Facebook page. My apartment complex doesn’t allow dogs and between work & commuting, I’m not really home enough to give a dog or dogs the proper attention they need. But I did have a what if moment about how if that wasn’t the case, I’d love to adopt them. But I’d have to learn how to “walk” them as dogs tend to walk me when I’ve walked those of friends and family.

    Which made me remember we didn’t have dogs because my brother was allergic. But we had cats even though I was allergic to cats. My mother even would get angry at me for being congested at dinner even when she knew I was allergic. I eventually developed asthma, which I have when I’m around cats, smoke and during the worst parts of allergy season.

    I never thought to question this or wonder about it as I thought it was normal. But now, I’m thinking WTF?!!! Who treats 2 kids so differently? And that’s the kicker, I start feeling like I’ve sorted the big stuff and made some sort of peace with it and it’s the minor things like a pet adoption which trigger memories which blindside me.

    On one hand, I feel in my 40s I should be “over” this, but I never really got a chance to deal with it at the time. So how can I be “over” something I’ve never had a chance to sort out and deal with?

    1. I completely hear you!! My drug abusing, physically and verbally abusive, law breaking brothers were treated much better than I was up until the day our Mother died. They had a very ‘sick’ relationship – addiction & codependency.

      After I detached/removed myself from the craziness of my family of origin is when I started to see the insanity that I was brought up in and only then did the processing start – when I realized that I was NOT so very flawed and unlovable. They were sick, the whole family dynamic was sick and I was only born into it. I have come to the conclusion, after many years of peeling back the layers, that my Mother was treated badly and not valued in her family of origin… only the boys were. So she did not know how to love me, she was not capable of it and in some f**ked up way did not want to learn how to heal her wounds in order to not cause me the pain she did. I now know that I am loveable and deserve respect and love just like anyone else.

      Maybe I am wrong but I think that since you have estranged yourself from your Mother, you are now seeing the truth and everything is bubbling up to be processed. I believe that this is healing. Atleast this has been my experience. So just being in your 40’s doesn’t mean that you should ‘get over it’- I am also in the same age bracket and still working on getting over it, through it, and getting on with it. 🙂

  4. I like your post, the comments and especially the final paragraph above about “getting over it.” My brother periodically says I keep re-hashing the past. Uh… no. You never said you were sorry or gave a reason for one particularly heinous incident of abuse and destruction (which your wife was complicit in) so until you apologize, I’ll keep bringing it up.

    But Golden Child malignant narcissists never do get a clue and apologize. And that, like you said, makes it more difficult to recover from. They really do think they are entitled to do as they wish, and especially to make others squirm uncomfortably.

    I always thought my mother liked my brother better because he was a male (the mother/son thing). When I confronted her as to why he was given first choice of her things, she clammed up and would not respond. When I pressed, she continued the stonewall. They don’t apologize. I’m glad your father got sober and made amends seriously. It’s reassuring to know that not all drug abusers and alcoholics are PD abusers.

    1. I think you bring up a very good point. People who don’t really take responsibility for their wrongs don’t learn from them. And they’re likely to repeat them, or at least that’s been my experience. While someone who takes genuine responsibility is more likely to learn and not repeat the behavior. I think that’s a good reason right there to limit exposure to people who won’t take responsibility for the wrongs they’ve done to others. I’ll have to see if I can find it, but I read a really interesting article about how in true forgiveness, the person who’s done the wrong acknowledges it and atones for it before forgiveness is granted. Abusers tend to just want to skip to the forgiveness step so they can do it all over again.

      1. Yes, good point for expanding on that. My N Golden Child older brother thinks that because I periodically keep forcing the issue – something he wants to forget because he feels justified in what he and his wife did, and/or wants it to remain hidden – he then has the right or is actually “obligated” to punish me yet again thereby putting me in my place. All my mother ever said was “his wife said she just doesn’t understand why you think she doesn’t like you.” She never once acknowledged what they did, even though there was proof. Somehow I had just made it all up to cause trouble. Classic Scapegoat/Golden Child triangle scenario. All three of them narcissists – the malignant kind. Extremely clever at masks and games.

        The only thing I can figure is that He knows that I know about the heinous abuse of his son by his 3rd wife – a psychopath – and wants to punish me for having the nerve to “barge in” and talk to his kids about the abuse. They lived in fear of him and of course never said another word to me about it. But he’s never forgotten my “transgression” and has made me pay dearly for it – and would again. Victims beware.

        And yes I do believe in using the word “victim” even though some in the N recovery world do not like that, because narcissists are repeat victimizers every chance they get. Especially when challenged or caught out.

  5. Reading all of this is bringing up scenes from my life of snuffing out bad behavior from others outside of my family. Three years ago, I had a falling out with my matron of honor. I now realize that she too suffers from a mother that is a narcissist as well. Shortly, after I was married, she became so mean & jealous & treating me like I was treated in my FOO. I now realize she was hurting too. There were many times my husband asked me why I was friends with her. Prior to our wedding, she never behaved abusive to me or at least I can’t recall anything. We were two scapegoats hanging out in our single days. I don’t know if marriage triggered something deep down inside of her to be as mean & cold as she was but it happened. I now forgive her based on all of the research I’ve done but I’m okay with not having contact with her. I still pray that someday she might get healed & we can reconcile but she owes me an apology. I won’t move forward unless she does that. Great discussion going on here! I found a meet up group based on Dr. McBride’s book close to my home. I hope this helps in my continued healing.

  6. I stopped all contact with my alcoholic/narcissistic mother about 7.5 years ago. I have been and am still very angry with her for robbing me of what I see other people have with their mothers. It really helps me to see someone else’s story that makes me not feel so guilty about it. I have a lot of family members that she still talks to that have tried many times to get me to talk to her because she’s not drinking right now. The problem is that even when she is sober, she still has the personality disorder and it’s too much for me. I stopped talking to her when she was sober because her behavior validated for me that I just couldn’t have her in my life anymore. My sister actually talked to her recently and validated for me why I don’t allow my mother into my life. Thank you for your post. It really helps knowing that other people are struggling with this issue too. I’m so afraid of not dealing with my issues and doing the same thing to my children. It’s cathartic to read other people dealing with this too.

  7. Hi, I was the scapegoat too. My mom basically joined in with my dad (NPD) in blaming me for everything..she needed me to take the abuse so she wouldn’t have to..The one time he hit her, i refused to leave (it was a daily occurrence) and she still says she would have divorced my dad if i had gone with her that ONE time((i was 11 y.o.)). Anyway, my point is this…after over a decade of abuse and being treated like crap, i kinda lost it and did some bad things, like getting drunk..the depression and dissociation were so bad i could barely function.
    My mother demands forgiveness, she does not seem to understand before and after…or that she was The Adult.
    Every time i confront her with what she put me through as a child, she talks about how AWFUL i was in my twenties when i finally cracked up a bit.
    She THROWS IT IN MY FACE, telling me that we have all made mistakes and forgiveness is the only way..while not understanding that much of my behavior came from trying to NUMB the emotional pain i felt. I am trying to cut off contact with my family, but they have spent so long projecting my personality ONTO me that they can’t seem to hear NO MEANS NO.
    Here is what i say about “FORGIVENESS”- are not under obligation to just forgive those who abused you and NEVER APOLOGIZED.
    2.Forgiveness simply means NOT returning treatment in kind. By simply turning away from them, instead of giving as good as you got, that is forgiveness.
    Hang in there.

    1. I think you make a lot of good points. When I was around 16 or so, mine tried to blame me for making her feel bad after going to an AA meeting and that she wasn’t going to go back. It’s amazing how they try to blame children for them not following through on things they’re afraid of, isn’t it?

      Also, it’s very common for them to compare our behavior as kids to their behavior as adults. Err, first of all, it’s adult vs. child, which is kind of apples and oranges. Not to mention, the higher standard parenting should imply.

  8. My NPD sent me an email telling me how he has learnt that in life one mustn’t hold onto the past.

    No apology, all I read between the lines is that I should get over it. There must have been something going on in his life, and so he thought he would try the reliable scapegoat.

    But our last argument still rang in my ears
    He had said, ‘You want me in your life, so….’ So he could behave anyway he wanted.

    Which means he feels no familial bond, it is NEVER going to be about me or our relationship.

    My husband said to me,we should never be in touch with him again.
    Its difficult for me as my parents are divorced and both are narcissists.
    And I am now NO CONTACT with my entire family.
    I’ve tried ‘working relationships’ before but it doesn’t work.
    They are like hurricanes that ruin anything they come in contact with, unless you are a source of supply.

    I am also scared that this is genetic as both my parents and my sisters have NPD.
    I believe my sisters were mostly normal, until the divorce and the double time triangulation messed them up. But am still scared that I will have a narcissistic child/ren and totally freak out or worse become a narcissist mother.

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