Our emotional, intuitive dance with others.
In general, a person who acts on the belief that they know the mind of God or of another man, except in the most basic way, diminishes their own honesty and empathy toward others. They may even tell themselves that their criticism of others is Love. They may call it “tough love”, believing their moral criticism of others actually helps them, but I tell you there is only tender Love, that includes empathy, and strives to understand another’s perceived “inadequacies”. More times than not, they turn out to be injuries not moral inadequacy. Love contains no moral judgment! It seeks to find resolution, understanding, and connection. It does not shame or diminish.
Recently someone in my extended family harshly criticized my sister for perceived “ir-responsibilities” over the years, and framed it as a moral issue, shaming my sister, despite the fact that that my sister has struggled with something that looks like depression, PTSD, and panic, because of the chaotic and terrorizing environment we grew up in. I was affected in the same way, because I experienced the same environment. I have struggled my whole life with PTSD/Depression/Panic Disorder. I have been gravely affected by injuries received growing up. My ability to “be like everyone else” striving towards all those things in Life that we want, like a good job, nice home, financial standing, etc. has been sorely lacking. I will never “be like everyone else”! My experience is different. My inadequacy is injury. The perceived inadequacies that come from PTSD are normal reactions to an abnormal experience. We have experience that others do not have, and cannot know from the outside!
Either PTSD is a real thing or not. Either Depression is a real thing or not. Either Panic Disorder is a real thing or not. You cannot have it both ways and make” inadequacies” that come from those very real medical conditions a moral issue.
My sisters and I grew up in a family with a mother who was severely mentally ill. Extreme violence and periodic terrorizing left my sisters and I affected, each of us in our own way. We lived through it, we are the “experts” of that experience and of its effects.
We can still love my mother despite her injuries/medical conditions (she was probably suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder), but we do not have to see her as morally deficient, because the truth of it is, that she had injury or disease as well.
Nor do we make her behavior normal in our minds, and take upon ourselves the effects of that violence and chaos! Understanding and empathy have brought us to this point, not moral judgment. Moral judgment would have interfered with our quest for resolution of our own injuries from her behavior.
I can never be like everyone else because my experience is different. In order to manage my PTSD (manage not control) there are many times when I “look” less responsible than others because I need more downtime than others, or have to withdraw from situations that activate the PTSD. I may be seen as spacey, ir-responsible, confused or lazy. But the truth of the matter is that your judgment of me is all about you, not me. Your judgment of me is none of your business, and the same is especially true for others who grew up in the same kind of environment as my sisters and I did.
Quite frankly, abuse survivors should be seen as having the incredible resolve and courage for continuing to find their way in Life, despite how difficult that quest is and we should seek to understand that. In doing so we grow, both in empathy as well as honesty, finding forgiveness in the process.
Not long ago I went to my appointment with a new health care professional. I felt wary and a little defensive because he was new, and I was put into a position of having to trust him. I have trouble with that. He seemed like a nice fellow, with a good sense of humor, and I gradually started to relax. When seeing a health care professional for the first time, I believe it is important for adult survivors to mention that they are child abuse survivors, if they feel that it is important to do so. I attempted to do that, to give him information that I believed was necessary. Survivors often have issues that are reflected in the complaints they take to professionals. Survivors often have issues with touch, with trust, and many have PTSD symptoms that masquerade as physical problems. Survivors often have problems such as depression and panic disorder. Survivors also may have difficulty instituting new habits or regimes, which might affect treatment by a health care professional. Also, because of the non-linear nature of recovery, one time they may be just fine, while another time they may need medication to get through a particularly difficult period, perhaps having panic attacks, severe depression or despair. We can be very different from time to time, although that lessens with the length of recovery.
He smiled and said to me something to the effect that “I tell people that they have to stop thinking about it” (the child abuse). “All they have to do is stop thinking about it”. Without ever having met me before, and without knowing anything about me except from my medical chart, he proceeded to tell me, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you might be using the abuse as a crutch.” “Some people use it as a crutch, telling everyone they meet that they were abused”.
I immediately felt exposed and awkward. I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around his uncalled for comments. Unsolicited advice is disrespectful. Interjecting oneself into such a very personal, private area of a person’s life without being invited to do so is extraordinarily tactless and hurtful. It shows a lack of empathy and understanding.
I thought ,”would you say that to a woman who was raped, if she was having difficulty recovering from the PTSD that follows the rape?” I also thought about those who, as adults were hurt in war, and suffer from PTSD and have difficulty recovering from that experience. I knew that it was not ok to say something similar to them. How much more are children hurt than adults! Often the trauma in their young lives happens not just once, but hundreds of times, sometimes more than that. They have neither the skills, nor the understanding, nor the training, nor the stamina that adults might have. The effects are more devastating, and more difficult to recover from, some lasting a lifetime. Often their recovery does not start the next day, but decades later. The fact that survivors are now adults makes no difference, other than the fact that we have more skills and resources. I knew it was not ok to say what he said to me. My anger rose, and kept me from “shrinking” (becoming “less than”).
I handled this experience surprisingly well. Of course I did. I have 22 years of “training” through various therapies, have read as many books as some “experts”, and have practiced what I have learned through my recovery since I was 35. I am 57 this year. I struggled with the fear, shame, and finally the anger I was feeling. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I struggled with the dissociation that threatened to overwhelm me. I took some calming breaths for a few extremely uncomfortable seconds. My response was simple. I said calmly, “I don’t do that. You needed to know because you’re the doctor”. His response was something like, “We’re all the same as everyone else”, as if that was some lesson he was delivering to me. I felt my anger rise again, and felt like I was in a “power struggle”. I breathed again to give me time to react the way I wanted to. I assumed he didn’t mean it in a negative way. We all have equal value in God’s eyes, and we should in each other’s as well. But in a very real sense, some survivors have experiences far beyond what others experience. They have experiences that can teach others about things that can literally change the world we live in. I am more in some areas, and less in others. That has to do with skills, experiences, but not value. I saw that I knew that, and that he didn’t seem to know that. I said, “yes we are”, holding back the rest of what I knew.
I did not “get into it” much further with him. I was surprised and somewhat confused that he didn’t know why that information might be useful, or for that matter necessary. Perhaps he believed that the type of abuse I experienced does not exist, or since I seemed rational, it could not have been severe. He could not have been more wrong.
Many of us have a lack of understanding about the effects that child abuse has on adult survivors. Many of us have a lack of understanding of what “recovery” looks like for an adult survivor. Many of us have no idea of all that a survivor might have to deal with on a daily basis in their recovery, (and inside themselves). Many of us believe that when someone says they are a survivor, that they surely couldn’t be standing intact in front of them if their abuse was severe. Many of us do not understand that recovery is a journey. It is not a destination. Recovery is remarkably personal, and depends on our makeup, gifts and the type and severity of the abuse. Some journey farther than others, some have suffered more than others. There is no abuse that cannot be recovered from. Sometimes survivors “circle” an event or theme of abuse until they are ready to resolve it -sometimes even years. All survivors are looking for resolution, even if it looks like they are not moving forward! Who are we to judge what a survivor’s recovery should look like? Who are we to tell them that we know when it is time for them?
Another misconception is that if only a survivor changed his or her thinking, then they could get past the trauma. Although how we think, and what we think about, does play a large role in our daily attitudes, thinking mostly is not where we were hurt, and might be described as being in an “outer layer” of our being. Our emotional nature, and our acceptance of how we are, who we are, and where we are on our journey, is what are most damaged. Survivors are always looking for resolution. When they are focused on the past, they are doing so because they have not found resolution, and are looking for their own personal resolution, not someone else’s! Often our thinking reflects what we are feeling, even if we do not know that. Many Survivors have “frozen feelings”, meaning that they cannot get in touch with their deepest wounds. It takes sustained focus on the past to get to these feelings. Unless we go through the pain, feel it and share it, we will not get to the other side of it. It will sit in us festering, looking for expression in our daily lives, rather than describing the events of the past. In this way, the past contaminates the present. Although our outer thinking may influence our outer feeling, it does not affect those feelings near the core of us. In fact, much of our thinking is driven by feelings from our center. Some call this “primacy of emotion”. In my experience, no amount of thinking or not thinking will heal the wounds of the past. Discovering the frozen feelings from our pasts, giving voice to them, fully feeling them, having empathy for how vulnerable we were, and how tenacious – these are the things that lead us into the journey of recovery – no matter how long it takes us!
I stand before you in a process of recovery, even though I started that recovery 22 years ago. I stand before you relatively intact, although at one time I was completely crippled. I stand before you imperfectly healed. I stand before you not as victim, but as survivor, there is a difference. I stand before you sometimes with a cauldron of feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, feelings that most would recoil from, yet I do not fall apart, nor do I deny or avoid them. I am a survivor, and I am responsible for my own recovery. No one can do it for me, although I have invited God into the process of my recovery. I am proud that I am a survivor, because it embraces all of my past, not just the “acceptable parts”. I stand before you, and I tell you that I am both more and less, not the same as those who have not been abused. I am less in those areas that still interfere with what I want to do, and I am more, because I have experiences that can teach all of us how to behave with each other, so that no one gets hurt like I was. I stand before you so that you may hear my voice. I use my voice so that others may know it is ok to do so also. I use my voice so that others may start their journey of recovery. I use my voice to bring empathy into areas where we have none. I stand before you as a survivor, and it is a badge of courage and accomplishment, not some sort of excuse or crutch to gain sympathy.
I had a wonderful Christmas holiday. My son, Shawn and his girlfriend Rebecca visited from California, where Shawn goes to Stanford University. Actually they had visited for part of the week before Christmas, and had to leave right before the actual holiday. I couldn’t shut up the whole time they were here! I found myself more enthusiastic and boisterous than usual. I couldn’t seem to contain myself! My son played the guitar and sang one evening, and I was moved by how unbelievably good he was! It had been years since he had last played for me. Rebecca is an opera singer. That same night she brought us all to tears, so beautiful was her rendition of “Oh Holy Night”! I have never heard a voice like that! We all talked about “real” things, you know, those things that we care deeply about, are deeply moved by, etc. We allowed space and safety (lack of any judgment), so each of us could be fully authentic, playful, and open. It was wonderful! Continue reading
“The New Testament is always calling us to do what we cannot do. No, we ourselves cannot forgive, but as we strive to forgive we are given God’s forgiveness as a gift. We are not called to create forgiveness; that is beyond us. We are called instead to participate in a forgiveness given to us as a gift. … Do not ask the wounded to forgive.
Do not ask them to completely heal the relationship, to withdraw all of the painful memory and to extract any lingering poison. Civility is within our grasp; but forgiveness, true, deep-down, New Testament forgiveness, is not a human possibility.”
An except from Thomas G. Long, “To Err is Human; to Forgive?” in Forgiveness, Christian Reflection (Fall 2001): 29-35. Copyright © 2001 by The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University.
T. told me what your response was to my letter. I am sorry you reacted that way, but it was how I expected you to react. I wanted you to accept it in the spirit in which it was given. Quite frankly, I wrote that letter for you, not for me. I know that you probably won’t be here for too much longer, and I wanted you to have a chance of leaving this life without anger and resentment. You told T. that you were still angry from when I called you “a crazy old woman” during an argument we had. If you believe that I called you that, you have me mixed up with someone else. As an adult, I have never resorted to calling people names, and I have never called you names of any kind. In fact, I have never directly expressed any anger to you that I may have had towards you in any meaningful way. I have also never directly told you how I felt about how you treated us as children. I have only alluded to your anger, and my reaction to it. You called me many names when I was a child, but as an adult, I do not do that to anyone, even to you. I also live by a code of honesty that demands that I do not pussy foot around the truth. When you say something that is untrue, I am not afraid to challenge your version. I don’t resort to name calling.
I told you a long time ago that it was your anger which pushed us apart. I told you that for most of my life I was afraid of your anger. I have chosen those in my life who do not choose anger, and resentment, and negativity as a state of being in their lives. I have done that, because that is what healthy, people do. Healthy people stay away from folks who nurture their resentments, or spend an inordinate amount of time complaining. You have a problem with both. You even chose your anger and resentment and negativity over having a relationship with 2 of your grandchildren, S. and F. . For almost 20 years, I raised my sons by myself. You complained to K. and KA. and T. about how awful it was the way we lived. Yet you chose to take very little interest in your own grandchildren, nor did you offer to help make things better for them. Instead you just chose to complain, and to paint me as the bad guy, who couldn’t do it right, just like when I was a child. You got to feel powerful and righteous, but you missed the lives of your grandchildren. You have no idea what wonderful men they have become, nor have you shown any interest in even finding out! Other folks. who were around all through S. and F.’s childhood could look past the lack of money, and see the fine job I did all through that time, even though we were dirt poor. You choose to see what you want to see despite the facts. I always wished that you wouldn’t do that.
Since I am telling you the truth here, you should know that you have a more negative attitude towards life than anyone I have ever met. I always wished that you weren’t that way. It is such a waste. You just about drive K., and KA., and T. crazy with all of your negativity, complaining about other people, almost to the exclusion of other conversation, but they put up with it. I don’t. I chose to stay away, praying that you would change, so that I could have a normal relationship with you. I will also not pretend that all your violence was OK. It wasn’t. What kind of parent beats her children with her fists, screams at the top of her lungs while doing that, obscenities coming out of her mouth with not the slightest bit of shame or guilt? What kind of parent beats their child with a metal vacuum cleaner pipe? What kind of mother threatens then chases her kids with a butcher knife? Much of what you did to us would put you in jail nowadays and you did more of it, more often to me. K. and T. know that to be true. I know that to be true also, yet I have forgiven you. I know you weren’t all bad. You did many things for us when we were kids, don’t get me wrong. I see how hard it was for you and Daddy, and I see that you took time for cub scouts and brownies and girl scouts. But the hurt that you inflicted on all of us changed us forever. It crippled us emotionally to one degree or another. Just like the hurt that your mother and father and brother inflicted on you, changed you forever. But as adults, we have the power to shape our lives. With God’s help, and only with God’s help, we get to steer our lives, and to make choices that are different than our childhood injuries would dictate, and different than those who hurt us in the past. That is our sacred responsibility in this life. That profound truth has been embraced by all of your children to one degree or another, including myself. You allow your childhood injuries to dictate how you act in this life, and you continue to hold onto anger and resentment at me and at Daddy, which really belongs to your mother, your father, and your brother. And you have so little time left. I know that you do not understand any of this. I pray that God’s grace can allow you to. I am sure that K and T pray that same prayer.
When I was a child, you blamed your rage on our behavior. Did we misbehave? Of course! But no one has that kind of reaction to a child’s misbehavior. Your rage was always there, and was always just below the surface ready to pounce. It was not about any of your children’s behaviors. It kept growing all the years that I was a child. It was so large, and so unrestrained, and unfettered, that it could only have come from your past. Many people understand issues like this. It is self evident to them. They either come from families without the violence that was in ours, or they have recovered from that kind of violence.
Beating your children is violence. It keeps them from reaching their potential. It keeps them from becoming the person that God wants them to be, because it can permanently damage them! It takes most of an adult’s time and energy to overcome that kind of damage. It takes enormous energy to keep from inflicting the same kind of damage to our own children. It takes the kind of honesty that allows criticism, and demands that we own our own anger, and do not blame it on our children.
When you beat us with your fists, and you did that often, and hard, you told us how we were terrible, ugly, disgusting, evil, bad, rotten, and all the other adjectives you used that I won’t repeat here. You taught us to believe those terrible things about ourselves. When a child is taught that they are “bad”, then they act “bad”! When you are taught that you are ugly, and disgusting, that there is something wrong with you, you go through life even as an adult, believing that and reacting to it. You did that to me, to K. and T.. Mostly, you did not do that to KA..
I have been fortunate in my adult life. I have received the help I needed to get past what you did to me. I was able to replace all those terrible, unrepeatable adjectives that you put inside me while you beat me with more truthful adjectives. It has taken me most of my adult life. It has also taken most of my adult life to rid myself of the rage that you put inside me when you beat me like you did. Rage that I had to resist my whole life, the same rage that you never resisted when you beat us. I knew it was wrong to beat my kids, and I resisted all the anger that I carried from your beatings, and didn’t beat my children. You never resisted your rage.
The many counselors and therapists who helped me all the years it took to heal were in every case astounded by the level of violence and mistreatment in our family. No one calls their children what you called us every time you beat us. It is no wonder that we misbehaved. On one hand we were terrified of your beatings. On the other hand we were left with so much fear and anger, and “nervous energy” from your previous beatings, and all the terrible things you called us, that we were bound to misbehave in some form or another.
You may believe that I am still angry at you, and that is why I am telling you this. That is not true. The fact is that none of your children have ever really stood up to you, to tell you how your behavior affected them. We were children, you were the adult. It was your responsibility to protect and nurture us. It was your responsibility to resist the rage that you carried inside yourself since childhood. It is also your responsibility now, before you cross over, to realize your mistakes, to feel bad for all the hurt you have caused others, and to ask God to forgive you. Forgiveness only comes through remorse, and we are forgiven to the degree that we forgive others. The first step is to be able to take criticism, and to use absolute honesty to see if there is any truth to the criticism we receive. If I can embrace this simple principle, you can too. But it is your choice. I pray that you make that choice. Anger and resentment are poor fuel for one’s life. If you embraced a life where the glass was not half empty, not even half full, but mostly full, you would have so many loving people around you, that you would wonder why you had lived over 80 years seeing the glass so empty.
Your son, Ken S
To be used by a spiritual leader for his or her own selfish gratification is the greatest betrayal. There is no one higher in “authority” (power) other than God. In the religion I was raised with, I was taught that the priest was between God and me. I had to go through him to get to God. When the priest hurt me, he hurt my ability to connect with everything that is most important inside myself. He hurt me in ways I am still finding out about. He hurt me in ways I am not willing to publicly share yet. I will tell you that the hurt from what he did, is extraordinarily painful. I have circled this issue for a long time. I am well into my recovery. Still, when the feelings and memories came back, I wasn’t sure I could handle it. My “kid” would disassociate so much that I would almost faint, if I didn’t back off some. I had to approach this over and over, until my “kid” trusted me enough, and until I (the adult) felt capable and willing. And it has taken much of God’s Grace. I definitely am not an expert on this. I have approached this issue in my recovery the same as with all the others:
* Be absolutely honest with myself.
* Feel all my feelings, and pay attention to everything that goes on inside myself.
* Trust the child inside myself, he is Real!
* Trust my intuition, I have it for a reason!
* Take good care of myself, be the good parent I never had!
* Get lots of Safe support! The more eye to eye contact, the less shame I will have to carry!
* Wait and see what happens (watch and see if God, or Life is helping out), slowly we learn to trust what we never could trust before!
Finally, if you or a loved one is a victim of clergy abuse, I want to tell you, that I am so sorry that it happened to you! It never should have happened! You didn’t deserve it! You were in no way responsible for it! I do know, however, that each of us has been made in such a way that we have what we need to heal, right within us. It takes time, and it is painful.
QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT YOUR THERAPIST
1. Are all your feelings OK to express with your therapist, or are there some that are not OK?
2. Are you allowed to cry, even encouraged to if that is what you need?
3. Are you allowed to have your fear, and not be judged for having it, or does your therapist talk about ?rational? and ?irrational? fears?
4. Are you allowed to have and express your anger, without the therapist pushing or encouraging you to ?forgive? your abuser?
5. Does your therapist acknowledge that no matter what your feelings are, they tell a story of some sort, and are healthy and normal?
6. Does your therapist show his or her own emotions, and allow everyone else to as well?
7. Do you feel safe and uncrazy when you are with your therapist? Do you have their attention, without undue interruptions? Do you feel respected?
8. Does your ?gut? tell you that your therapist is the right one for you, that ?you have come home? to heal?
IS YOUR GROUP A SAFE GROUP?
1. Is cross-talk (interrupting) discouraged, so that everyone feels heard, and has everyone elses? attention?
2. Do the others in your group have similar issues, and have progressed to the point where they can do the ?work? that is required in group?
3. Does the group have rules about time limits, and is there a consensus about what ?work? is, and that gossiping, or idle chat is to be left outside of group?
4. Is time allocated in such a way, that many of the members of the group get time?
5. Is a couple minutes of time per person set aside at the beginning of group for each member to bring other members ?up to speed??
6. Do the therapists (or therapist) set clear boundaries, and step in quickly but respectfully, when someone violates those boundaries?
7. Does your group function like a functional family, not a dysfunctional one?
8. Do the members of your group empathize, not strategize?
9. Do you feel loved, respected, and safe in your group? Do you get what you need?
For something that’s supposed to do so much good, Forgiveness sure can be an uncomfortable topic for survivors. I believe too often, survivors are told “you must fully forgive” to heal. When well-meaning folks have told me that, I feel a little bit re-injured, because the inference is that I have not done all I can do, or I haven’t done it right, or fast enough, therefore I am at fault! The last thing a survivor needs to hear, even if it is indirectly, is that they are at fault! I believe, too often, folks who just want us to “stop belly-aching”, and tell us to forgive, are truly uncomfortable with our feelings, the very feelings we are trying to share about the abuse. To truly empathize would be to bring those same feelings up in themselves, and they are invested in keeping those feelings at arms length, at all cost!
Sometimes brothers or sisters want the “fairy tale” ending. In their story, everyone lives happily ever after, if only the victim (their brother or sister) “forgives” the parent for their crimes. In fact, this sibling might avoid the use of words like crimes or abuser when cajoling their brother or sister to “patch” their relationship with the abuser. In their story, everyone loves each other and finally they have the family they always wanted.
I should tell you, that I love my sisters. They are good, kind people, fellow survivors, and each at different places in their journeys. Recently, one of my sisters asked me “to take the high road” and “fully forgive” my mother for her abusive behavior when I was a child. This abuse included threatening me with a butcher knife, tying me to a chair, beating me with her fists, telling me she would kill me if she could get away with it, and constantly telling me that there was something wrong with me, that I was ungrateful, unloving and unlovable. This abuse happened repeatedly, and consistently from the time I was four or five, and continued into my teens. What my sister wanted me to do was go to my mother, fully letting her off the hook for everything she has ever done, and still is doing, and to tell this woman who was never there for me in any substantial consistent emotional way, that I am sorry for not being there for her since my dad died. I don’t have any feelings left for this woman. I have cried gallons of tears for all the hurt and loss, and I have raged on paper, at punching bags and pillows, and with the courageous people who have been there for me during the years of healing it has taken me to get rid of the poison that this woman put in me with her violence and hatred. I have no feelings good or bad for her anymore, and yet I am to approach her as a sacrificial lamb so that she doesn’t feel abandoned, and so that she doesn’t feel guilty for crimes she committed against children that would have put her in jail even 40 or 50 years ago when they occurred!
I felt angry when my sister asked me to do that, and I feel angrier now as the full impact of it sinks in. I ask myself would Jesus let her off the hook like that? My answer is yes, BUT ONLY IF SHE REPENTED. She would have to feel guilty first, her heart would have to go out to those she hurt, and she would have to ask for forgiveness. True and absolute forgiveness only happens through responsibility and repentance. Victims struggle in their own way, at their own speed, and on their own path to find what I call forgiveness. That forgiveness is a result, or a destination that they arrive at, after fully venting, and sharing their feelings of outrage, loss, sadness, and terror with empathetic witnesses, seeing in the eyes of those witnesses, the recognition of the severity of their injuries, and meeting other needs that they might have around those injuries. This is the lonely journey faced by most survivors of child abuse, when their perpetrators are unwilling to face what they have done, or to take responsibility, and to fully apologize with feeling to the survivor for their behavior. The tears shed by a perpetrator who fully acknowledges the injuries they have caused in others might be tears that don’t have to be shed by the victim of those injuries! Instead, in most cases, all the work of forgiveness is left to the victim, and I would assert that it is fully up to them how much, and of what type of forgiveness to dispense. The rest, we leave to God, Who is truly the only One with the Power to forgive..