Breaking Generational Cycles: Forgiveness

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash 
white tulips are symbolic of forgiveness, purity, and serenity

Emotions tend to run high around the idea of forgiveness when it comes to child abuse and especially child sexual abuse (CSA). Understandably so. I am not advocating that you forgive your abuser(s), especially if you are in the early stages of coming to terms with what happened to you. There are so many things to factor in including the relationship to your abuser, the severity of the abuse, the timeframe, your resilience, other illnesses, advice from your trauma therapist, and whether you have a support system. When you read stories about parents forgiving their child’s murderer and other profound acts of forgiveness, there are almost always certain things present such as a long and deep faith tradition with years of healing, pondering, and counseling.

It is not to be taken lightly. Here’s a quote from a good article on what forgiveness is and what it is not:

True forgiveness means acknowledging that our suffering matters—to us, the one who’s lived it—whether or not the other person ever agrees with us.  We say, you matter—to our own heart.  And it bears repeating… we do all this with or without the other’s awareness.  Forgiveness is an inside job.

Nancy Colier LCSW, Rev.

 And here are 5 myths about biblical forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is not something anyone else can tell you to do, much less tell you when you are ready for it or if it’s right for your mental health, your family, or your situation. It is a profoundly personal decision and should be respected as such.

All that said, I do suggest that you forgive yourself for thinking any of it was your fault and for your mistakes. Those who cannot carry their own shame are more than happy to shift it onto their victims. As far as mistakes, you were likely hampered by changes in your brain and brain chemistry. Chances are that if you experienced childhood trauma, you made some mistakes that were driven by forces that you were unaware of. Trauma research is fairly new. Be gentle with yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Learn, apologize, make amends when appropriate, and move on.

You have to have a strong support system and it helps to be in trauma therapy to tackle this stuff – to open Pandora’s box – especially while raising children. If you can do it before you have kids, that’s fantastic. That was not the case for me. There were few therapists who understood trauma when I was raising my two, plus I didn’t understand all the implications of my own abuse and so shoved all of it aside for a couple of decades.

The worst mistake I made was leaving my son with my mother for five days while his sister and I were out of town at the Betty Ford Family Program. He was too young for the children’s program. Knowing what I know now, I would never have done it. At least it came after my threat that we would cut her off entirely if she was not kind to him. She changed her behavior (and I was seriously, though still privately, angry knowing she could control it after all those years). There was no difference in my son before and after, but in light of what I’ve learned, it was still a mistake. We just got lucky.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

You always think abuse is personal. It is personal and it also is not. Abusers abuse. That’s what they do. It’s not specific to you – or rather only to you – you were close, convenient, and powerless. Believing it was only about her was why my mother left me with her mother and stepfather when she went to Vegas with my dad for a week. Years later, when I was finally dealing with the fallout from my abuse, I realized that something did happen to me that week, but by that point, my trauma therapist advised that since it fit with the family pathology, there was no reason to dig it all up. I’d already processed plenty in order to see the patterns and to heal.

I chose to forgive my mother and my family because to me that seems like the true completion of the full cycle. She never forgave her stepfather and ended up bitter and alone, full of hate. I do not want to end up the same way, so forgiveness is the difficult last step to truly break the cycle. It does not mean that any of it was okay, but rather it unhooks me from the situation and frees me from it. I still feel anger sometimes. I certainly still feel the effects of the abuse. I am also able to place the blame and shame on them instead of me. Forgiveness means I am free to be in this moment, unshackled from the past. Finally.

This is your brain on trauma

The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine is having an excellent free series on the brain and trauma that includes Peter Levine (Walking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, In An Unspoken Voice, and more) and Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score). Replays for the first session are today and tomorrow.

[Disclosure: Books cited above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I get a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. I’ve read them and they’ve been invaluable in my own recovery. Thank you]

TraumaBrainInfographic

More generational cycles to break…

I’ve lived and researched and thought about breaking unhealthy generational cycles of sexual abuse in families. Now another wave of abuse in the Catholic Church has surfaced, this time in Pennsylvania (warning: graphic sexual content). I’m a convert (RCIA ’99) and still new to the Church when it came to light in Los Angeles around 2002. While shocking and disgusting, I did not find it particularly surprising. When attacked for my faith and/or decision to join the Church, I kept asking, “Where did you think you’d find them?” They will always be found among the most trusted people in society, in positions of contact with minors. That is how they get access. That is how they get away with it. What I did not stop to consider is that, as with families, there are generational cycles in seminaries as well, passed down through the years from one group to the next.

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The effects of childhood sexual abuse are lifelong. It returns with these kinds of revelations whether from politicians or priests. Triggers are real and they remain, whether or not the source of one’s own abuse was the same. The act is the same or similar and the body knows it. These priests not only committed one of the most heinous acts against the vulnerable and powerless, they did so as representatives of God. That is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is an unforgivable sin.

There is a saying that the pain continues through families until someone decides to fully feel it. However it happens, it takes a conscious decision to stop sexual abuse.

Here’s how one priest addressed being abused when he was 15 and what he did to stop his molester.

shhh
Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

We can put an end to most childhood sexual abuse if we make up our minds to do so. One of the main obstacles is denial. Confronting evil is messy and scary and once again – despite the lessons of the past (and they weren’t that long ago) – we see men who are supposedly trained in good and evil making excuses. Bishop Thomas J. Tobin told the press that the abuse was outside his responsibility. He is no different from my grandmother who looked the other way as her second husband molested her daughter for a dozen years. Tobin, now in Providence, RI, was Auxiliary Bishop in Philadelphia while the Church was covering up the abuses:

“My responsibilities as Vicar General and General Secretary of the diocese did not include clergy assignments or clergy misconduct, but rather other administrative duties such as budgets, property, diocesan staff, working with consultative groups, etc. Even as an auxiliary bishop, I was not primarily responsible for clergy issues,″ Tobin said in an email to The Providence Journal.

When my mother told her mother what was going on she was accused of stealing her mother’s husband. When she went to her grandmother, she was slapped and warned against saying such awful things about such a fine man. Versions of what too many bishops and priests are saying this week.

The common attitude: Nothing to see here, move along. We must preserve the status quo. Don’t rock the boat.

The bishops would do well to repent publicly in sackcloth and ashes. Yes, literally. My sense is that the All Patient is losing patience. Their time to declare a Holy Hour of Reparation, A Year of Penance, to donate their ornate robes to make First Communion clothes for children in favor of a cilice, is running out.

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Photo by Aron on Unsplash

Speak up

child on bench
Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

When the Trump administration began to separate children from parents at the border, I knew some of those children would be sexually abused. It’s happened. Inevitably. And to a six-year-old girl. Any time you isolate children from the adults who love and protect them, disaster is inevitable. It doesn’t matter if it’s being done by a coach or teacher, church or government – separating children, isolating them, is key to abusing them.

In the case of people fleeing the horrors of their country to make the dangerous journey to the US, the abuse of the children isolated by our government is our tax dollars at work. If you were (rightly) incensed over the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, Nassar at Michigan State, Sandusky at Penn State, or any of the too many other cases, this time, you have the tools to do something about this. This time, it’s being done in our name with our tax dollars. This time, call your reps, vote, clean out the House and Senate. Demand change. If you were outraged over any of the other abuses, yet somehow think this is okay as part of a deterrent, you need to check your soul and your racism.

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Photo by annie bolin on Unsplash

When the Catholic abuse victims voiced their displeasure with Cardinal Mahoney’s patronizing apology, I decided to add my voice to theirs. I wrote to Archbishop Gomez that, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the damage Mahoney was doing, the pain of his statements, was not confined to those directly abused. Cardinal Mahoney’s self-serving comments affected all of us who were abused as children, not only the direct victims. There are more of us than you know.

Amplification.

Solidarity.

Two weeks later, the Archbishop stripped Mahoney of his administrative and public duties and publicly criticized him. It was unprecedented. Did my letter make a difference? Unlikely. I don’t know that it got to him or whether he read it. However, Gomez reading the accounts and listening to those directly affected did lead to his actions. But I felt better adding my voice to theirs and maybe someone did take note that all abuse victims are impacted by public statements thanks to Complex PTSD, something I’ll be writing more about in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

What's brave?

brave, metoo, child abuse, rape
Photo by Leio McLaren via Unsplash

Another predator is exposed. This time it’s Harvey Weinstein. Stars are making statements. Some of these are thoughtful and reflective. Glenn Close says she’d heard the rumors and writes, “Harvey has always been decent to me, but now that the rumors are being substantiated, I feel angry and darkly sad.” Her entire statement is worth reading in the link above.

I’m having a difficult time with those who say they’re shocked. Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was an open secret in Hollywood and, sadly, not unusual. If someone working regularly in Hollywood is truly shocked, it shows they don’t notice those around them who are not in positions of power. I would ask them going forward to notice the expressions and postures on set, especially of women and children. I hope the way this is breaking wide open helps identify other predators, including the pedophiles, on film and TV sets. And the predators in other workplaces around the country.

Given the statistics of child molestation – depending on the source, 1 in 4 or 5 women (and 1 in 6-10 men) – and the number of Weinstein’s victims to date, it is likely that a percentage were molested as children. My issue with the language gushing over the bravery of the women coming forward is this: the victims with child abuse/incest in their background who do not come forward are also brave. Bravery for them, particularly after being re-traumatized, is what anyone else might consider “normal functioning.” Getting out of bed in the morning can be an act of enormous courage.

So yes, kudos to those who’ve come forward. We need them, especially Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie and others who have the clout to amplify the message. But let’s not forget those who’ve been hurt beyond measure who can’t or won’t go public out of self-protection, not so much for their public safety or career as for their own mental and emotional well-being.

  They are no less brave. 

Regarding the courage of the abused child, watch this interview: Arthur Miller totally got that about Marilyn Monroe: start at the 4:22 mark for the entire answer and 5:53 for the meat.

When the Access Hollywood tape came out, I had nightmares and recalled one incident in particular that I’d locked away in a closet in my mind. When I heard the audiotape of the NYPD sting of Weinstein, another came back. I am far from the only one. I’m seeing dozens of others on social media saying the same thing. It is a profoundly painful and disturbing experience to have these things resurface unbidden. These predators do not only hurt their victims, they affect most everyone else who has been molested and/or raped.

This is why I am writing my memoir. If you want to support that effort, you may do so here.

What’s brave?

brave, metoo, child abuse, rape
Photo by Leio McLaren via Unsplash

Another predator is exposed. This time it’s Harvey Weinstein. Stars are making statements. Some of these are thoughtful and reflective. Glenn Close says she’d heard the rumors and writes, “Harvey has always been decent to me, but now that the rumors are being substantiated, I feel angry and darkly sad.” Her entire statement is worth reading in the link above.

I’m having a difficult time with those who say they’re shocked. Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was an open secret in Hollywood and, sadly, not unusual. If someone working regularly in Hollywood is truly shocked, it shows they don’t notice those around them who are not in positions of power. I would ask them going forward to notice the expressions and postures on set, especially of women and children. I hope the way this is breaking wide open helps identify other predators, including the pedophiles, on film and TV sets. And the predators in other workplaces around the country.

Given the statistics of child molestation – depending on the source, 1 in 4 or 5 women (and 1 in 6-10 men) – and the number of Weinstein’s victims to date, it is likely that a percentage were molested as children. My issue with the language gushing over the bravery of the women coming forward is this: the victims with child abuse/incest in their background who do not come forward are also brave. Bravery for them, particularly after being re-traumatized, is what anyone else might consider “normal functioning.” Getting out of bed in the morning can be an act of enormous courage.

So yes, kudos to those who’ve come forward. We need them, especially Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie and others who have the clout to amplify the message. But let’s not forget those who’ve been hurt beyond measure who can’t or won’t go public out of self-protection, not so much for their public safety or career as for their own mental and emotional well-being.

  They are no less brave. 

Regarding the courage of the abused child, watch this interview: Arthur Miller totally got that about Marilyn Monroe: start at the 4:22 mark for the entire answer and 5:53 for the meat.

When the Access Hollywood tape came out, I had nightmares and recalled one incident in particular that I’d locked away in a closet in my mind. When I heard the audiotape of the NYPD sting of Weinstein, another came back. I am far from the only one. I’m seeing dozens of others on social media saying the same thing. It is a profoundly painful and disturbing experience to have these things resurface unbidden. These predators do not only hurt their victims, they affect most everyone else who has been molested and/or raped.

This is why I am writing my memoir. If you want to support that effort, you may do so here.

The task at hand

I’m devoting more time to my blog for patrons at Patreonhemingway as a matter of survival. If you enjoy this blog or my other writing, please consider supporting my efforts – $1/month or more – and tell a few others who’d be interested. I’m not exaggerating regarding survival. I have been job hunting for a while without results. This is an alternative to support my writing, but it only works with your help.

After much prompting from those who know my story, I am writing a memoir and it’s hell to write. Hardest thing I’ve ever done is revisiting stuff I have minimized for decades.

This is more than writing for me. If we as a society decided that we wanted, really wanted, to stop child abuse, we could. Dr. Gene Abel and Nora Harlow wrote The Stop Child Molestation Handbook. If we at least try his suggestions, the improvement not only in individual lives, but society as a whole, could be dramatic. Lowering incidence of PTSD, depression, and physical problems would help all of us. That is my purpose, too. For whatever reason, I’m the transition person in my family. I stopped the abuse. I did not abuse my children and they will not abuse theirs, nor were they abused. It can be done. It’s become a cliche for a reason: if telling my story helps show one person the way to stopping the cycle, it’s worth it.

As for this blog, I will continue as time permits, but you’ve no doubt noticed a drop off in posting and now you know why. The memoir needs the bulk of my attention and there’s not much left over as I continue working on it. Thank you for your understanding and support.