Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to Forgive an Abusive Parent

How do you forgive your abusive parent / parents? Well first off, what exactly is forgiveness? I have always pondered the definition as well as if I have actually forgiven my parents. "To forgive" seems like it's as difficult to define as "to love." 

I am not angry with my parents. I don't want any ill-will or negativity between them and me. I don't want revenge or wish them any harm. In fact, I simply want peace for me and my family. I am not a fighter, and I stray away from conflict. I dislike tit-for-tat and will not engage in that type of behavior. 

All along, I have never blamed my parents for anything that I am responsible for-- which includes my life and who I am. I am the master of my own destiny, and although my upbringing was tough, I believe my experiences made me who I am today. I learned as a young girl that I am the only one who is responsible for me. I learned that I am the only one with whom I can depend. I learned very young that I have to be strong and take care of myself. Thus, I grew into a strong and independent person. 

Although my parents engaged in all types of manipulative, guilt-trip, emotionally abusive, and confusing behaviors with my brother and me, I always knew that they were in the wrong-- that we were just children and not responsible for our parents' reckless and careless actions. After being caught in the middle of my parents destructive divorce (my childhood), they each remarried into ready-made families before my brother and I were able to adjust from the split of our own family unit. Parental Alienation continued, battles in court ensued, and the emotional fall-out continued. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I accepted how my parents were, clearly cognizant that neither was **right** And into my adulthood, my parents were flippant with their relationships with my brother and me. So my brother and I went in and out of estrangements with our parents. 

I always searched for my part in the relationship's challenges-- as every relationship takes two. I would analyze and dig deeply to assess my accountability in the estrangements. And time and time again, I was never angry or resentful or even bitter-- always sad that broken relationships surrounded my family. I also wished that our family could be a happy family that shared in successes and supported during failures. But most importantly, I always accepted that these were the cards that I was dealt, and I would manage them to the best of my abilities. When I was a single woman, I could handle the dysfunction and toxicity to a degree and then I would have to back away. But with the entry of a husband and then a daughter, the tolerance for the disruptive, harmful, hurtful, and terribly confusing behavior had to stop. No more cycles in and out ... no more endless nights analyzing why this and that happened... no more walking on egg-shells. 

So, have I forgiven?

From a dictionary stand point, forgiveness is:
  • letting go of the need for revenge and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentments
  • excusing for a fault or offense-- to pardon.
  • renouncing anger against. 
I never felt the need for revenge nor have I been angry. I have felt hurt and astonished by they behaviors. I never felt the need to disparage my mother the way she's done to me since my childhood. I have not been bitter or held resentments to my mother or Dad. I also realize that they are who they are-- that they act the way they do, not because of me, but because of who they are. They treat others the way they treat me-- so I do pardon them for how they act. I don't like how I was treated nor accepted being treated poorly but I understand that they are both personality disordered. I definately will not accept my husband or child being treated poorly like how I was treated; therefore, I protect both from the 'known dangers.'

From a psychological perspective, forgiveness involves the affective, behavioral and cognitive systems of the forgiver, how one feels about the offender, behaves toward her and thinks about her. Forgiveness is letting go of the negative feelings and the emotional consequences of the hurt, namely the bitterness and resentment. The negative behavior toward the perpetrator is replaced with positive behavior. The choice is not to retaliate but to respond in a loving way and giving up the right to hurt back. The  negative thoughts regarding the offender are changed as the intellectual decision to forgive is made and the good and bad aspects of the perpetrator are integrated. The Forgiveness Web

How do I feel about my mother and Dad? Again, I am not bitter or resentful. I am not hurt by them at this point. By removing myself from the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde cycles of my mother as well as the narcissistic behaviors of my Dad, I have removed myself and my husband from repeatedly getting hurt, insulted, manipulated, and involved in the dysfunction & toxicity. I have never felt the need to hurt back which is evidenced by my walking away rather than fighting time-and-time again.

I love this definition of forgiveness: to forgive is to give up all hope for a better past: 
  1. If you are locked in regret over the past, you have less available to your life now.
  2. If you don't forgive, you are prejudging your future because you are on-guard, defended and, helpless from residual bitterness which influences your capacity for happiness because you haven't resolved something from your past.
I love that definition and it's counterparts. I have always had a rich and abundant life-- from as far back as I can remember, I have had a positive and cheery outlook on life and what is ahead. I have not had regrets, especially with my parents. I tried to manage, understand, tolerate, and move forward. And I have not been on-guard, defended, or helpless because of my past-- in fact, my experiences have been the opposite as I became empowered due to what I experienced in the past. I knew I had to be able to be self sufficient, and I shot out into the world at 18-years old and never looked back. I went to college, excelled in academics, went out into the corporate world, and succeeded as a single woman, living independently. I didn't look back until I was almost 30 years old, which is when I started to think about what brought me to where I was at that point.

I believe that forgiveness is a fresh start and clears a new view. The view is that an 'awful thing' happened and hurt; however,  that incident(s) will not take over life. I have the ability to love my mother when she was around (not bringing up previous estrangements or conflicts with her) but then handle the estrangement knowing that she went into another Mr. Hyde cycle. Don't get me wrong-- going into another estrangement wasn't a **happy** occurrence. Going into an estrangement was the feeling of sadness and loss again-- but also the feeling of a huge weight off my shoulders as the walking on eggshells can be very stifling. As far as my Dad, I tried to comprehend and understand his selfishness and the behaviors surrounding it; however, the weight that was lifted when I didn't have to endure being invisible or his condescending comments was freeing. The choice of a fresh start with clear new view is always available rather than bitterness and revenge. People who have forgiven have visible power, strength, and courage. Rather than eye-for-an-eye, they heal.

Part of forgiveness is not blaming for suffering. The 'awful thing' happened and the response is to move forward.  Move forward with openness and trust without blaming for suffering. Give very little power to people who are cruel. Forgiving means power is taken back and declaring your own life. 

Sure I wish things were better-- and sure I wish that I had happy, peaceful, and mutually beneficial relationships with my parents; however, I don't have the ability to have a happy, peaceful, or mutually beneficial relationship with them. The specific BPD woman marries a specific BPD man: hermit with a huntsman (protector), queen seeks a king (attracts attention and is a narcissist), witch seeks a fisherman (is dominated and controlled), and the waif marries a frog-prince (rescuer). The common denominator in the various types of men who marry BPD's is their tendency to reinforce the pathological dynamics between the mother and child (Lawson pp 178 -179). Therefore, understanding my Dad's relationship with my BPD mother (and even my step-father's relationship with my BPD mother) was essential to understanding my own experience-- and also essential in my understanding why I can't have a mutually beneficial relationship with them.

There's clear evidence that if people apologize, it's easier to forgive. Forgiveness, though, is not limited by that-- and I have gotten apologies from my mother at various times during my life; however, she overwhelmingly points the finger at my brother and me. She either doesn't comprehend or realize the repercussions from her actions-- or she has rationalized and justified her actions-- or she has convinced herself by telling the same lie over and over. Even if the person utters no conciliatory words and suffers no consequence, forgiveness can still occur because forgiveness is always for you. 

I don't need my mother or Dad to apologize-- I would like them to recognize and acknowledge their actions but apologizing for them would actually seem insincere since their narcissism is so encompassing that the apology would most likely be self-serving. You forgive by remembering what happened and you commit yourself to it never happening again-- thus the reason why I have walked away after 4 decades of trying to have relationships with them. 

Forgiveness does not mean condoning the action or that you have to reconcile with or like the person who did it. Declaring, "This was such a heinous act, I sever my relationship with them" which doesn't mean seeking justice. Forgiveness means that you don't take what happened as just personal, that you see it as a part of the bigger, ongoing human experience of hurt, resolution, conflict and negotiation. I realize that I happened to be born to this mother, a mother whom I don't like her actions or like her. I don't seek justice but I don't condone her behaviors. I also was born to a man who left when I was months old. I forgive him for letting me be adopted by another man, but I am not reconciled with him. And the man who adopted me is highly narcissistic with behaviors that are very self-serving; however, I don't condone the behaviors and don't want to subject myself or husband or child to his hurtful and bewildering actions.

Parents are the people we look to nurture us and keep us safe. When a parent abuses a child,  the  impact is life-long. Adult victims of abuse may have trouble trusting or suffer post-traumatic stress. For some, forgiving abusive parents may be a needed step to recovery. Be patient as forgiveness may take time until you are ready to forgive abusive parents. Take the time you need to work through your issues and don't revisit old arguments as going over the same issues may not help the situation.

Forgiveness the key to living "better, not bitter." While you are weak or while you are still suffering from the effect of the 'awful thing' done to you, forgiveness is challenging. Even if forgiveness is possible, it's still challenging. Take the time to heal wounds, eliminate of the negative consequences, and become more powerful-- then forgiveness will become much easier.


  1. Love this! It's a question we all ask ourselves... but I think you've hit on some super key points. For those who are estranged, I find it's very helpful to remember that forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation - despite how much those who are ignorant to the situation try to convince you otherwise. Like you've said repeatedly here, forgiveness is for yourself, so that you can go on to live a happy, free, fulfilling life, without the heavy burden of bitterness. :)


  2. "...despite how much those who are ignorant to the situation try to convince you otherwise" BINGO! You got that right, C! :) XXOO back at you.

  3. I love this; I don't know what to name my FOO dynamic, but I do know that I so relate to what you said: "I don't have the ability to have a happy, peaceful, or mutually beneficial relationship with them." I have my NF, EM with N traits, and full blown GC NS (sister)....my fathers focus on me is to require me to sustain my sisters mean spiritedness towards me...he didn't turn on me (in a way that I could see) until I set boundaries with my NS.

    I am not sure how to respond like this : The negative thoughts regarding the offender are changed as the intellectual decision to forgive is made and the good and bad aspects of the perpetrator are integrated.?? This confuses me, but I am on a journey of healing.

    It is hard, I am heavily scapegoated, but I am learning to be ok with that and consciously aware of the healing that is occurring within me. I have PTSD, a difficult time trusting, and get triggered easily....working on that as well.

    Thanks for the wisdom!

  4. Relative to healing, being able to keep both the good and bad aspects of the abuser in view, forgiveness allows the abused to 'absorb' the full 'evil' of the abuse that was committed while not losing sight of the humanity of the abuser. In simplistic terms, I realized that my parents are human and tried to do their 'best'. The 'best' that someone with a personality disorder is not always healthy, functional, or rational however. Does that make any better sense? All my best to you-- and you are so very welcome. xo

  5. I cannot believe I missed reading this beautifully written piece. But it was not an easy read emotionally. I could FEEL as I read the insides stirring of your story ...then mine. As you write about yours..I was hit with the magnitude of suffering you as a child have gone through. I could almost feel it in my gut. Then...I read about your outlook and I am blown away. How? I say to myself? How after having so much loss can she have such a "cheery" outlook?
    Is this your choice? disposition? I find it very interesting how...I could go through a very similar upbringing, bpd mother etc and find life in general much more challenging.I have not chosen to have no contact with my mother because I do not feel that I am really angry in any overt way anymore. I am hurt over the past but that will always be there. I always say I have forgiven my parents with my mind...like a decision. I may not feel it. But i made up my mind and decided to do it for me.

  6. I have pondered the 'cheery' outlook as well. My brother comes from the same experiences, and his disposition is not 'cheery' (he's quite the opposite. So, I suppose it's nature? I was born with a positive outlook and a cheery disposition? I have been questioned even at my job, how I can be always smiling and happy. People questioned that I was simply 'acting' by always being friendly and smiling-- but in all honestly, that is who I am. I smile as I pass strangers, I am excited about what the day ahead may bring, and I try to find the best in every situation. Now, don't get me wrong-- I have spent many years analyzing, breaking apart, discussing, researching, and more about my childhood. BUT during all of those years of trying to sort and figure things out, I was still a happy person having fun with life and creating sweet memories. Thank you for stopping by ... may you find happiness and peace <3

  7. Ding-ding-ding! ;) I also have always been a cheerful, outgoing person with friends (Mon Dieu, my closest friends have been so for decades), active in my community, a wide range of interests, a very successful marriage, career-I have been fortunate beyond words. I've also had people ask me if I'm "Always so positive, so up-beat." I truly enjoy people-all kinds of people. Everyone has taught me something about myself, what it means to be human and live in this world.
    Yes, there was a period in my younger years when I *did* hate my mother. I'm not gonna split hairs here and say, "I hated her BEHAVIOR." No, I hated her. Even at that time I did not wish her ill-will, I simply wished to be left in peace. That's all. I was moving forward with my life, was very busy and otherwise occupied in activities, relationships/my own family, career etc. (It's been such an adventure!)
    Yk, that I felt such hate for her speaks to the reality I was *still emotionally invested in her.* As I moved internally towards acceptance, "She was who she was" the hate dissipated. IMO, it's impossible to feel strong feelings of any kind towards someone with whom you have emotionally detached: For me, that took time. And real, get-down honesty with myself and acknowledging not only what happened but how I felt about it both intellectually and more importantly, emotionally. You bet I was furious with her-not to mention disgusted. Over time, despite her stalking for decades I became a whole lot less reactive emotionally and was able to recover my equilibrium much more quickly after one of her IEDs exploded in my life.
    I do believe NC was absolutely the key for me-in every way. It's as if I went from viewing her-and myself-through a pin hole lens to a wide frame, panoramic view. Stepping away/NC was an act of self-preservation and yes, I agonized about this for years prior until the day I made the decision and dropped my short note in the mail. I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted, I felt sad, yes, but so much of my grieving had taken place in the years preceding this decision: If my presence wasn't helping, my absence wouldn't hurt.
    I sure do wish I had some knowledge of the practical/legal implications-ex: Use an attorney to write a Cease and Desist letter and especially the classic response from a CB parent, the Slime and Malign Campaign. Wow, was that ever nasty and I was totally unprepared for it at all, never mind it's chronicity and severity.
    Again, thank you. Because of you (and other Bloggers) hopefully no AC will ever be stuck alone, navigating life with-and without- a CB "parent(s)." What a self-less, affirming way to give back....