Monday August 06, 2007
Dear Ms. Miller,
On December 2005 I wrote to you about the response I got from my mother when I blamed her for my childhood suffering: She admitted, showed empathy and apologized.
In your book “The Truth will Set You Free”, ch. 8, you write: “Sincerely forgiving our parents… is not difficult once we have allowed ourselves to feel the distress they caused us, to take it seriously, and to fathom the full extent of their cruelty “. Also, in the article “The Trap of Forgiveness”, Ms. Rogers writes: “When the past and the child’s suffering can be acknowledged, discussed, and shared, when a parent can express compassion, understanding, regret, and is capable of accepting his or her responsibility – then forgiveness will flow freely, without being demanded”.
I can discuss my suffering with my mother today, and she expresses compassion and regret.
However, both Ms. Rogers and you, replied to my message of Dec. 2005 and warned me NOT to forgive. Can you explain this contradiction to me?
As I see it (at least with other people in my life), not forgiving means breaking the relationship and not talking to the person again. However, in chapter 8 of “The Truth will Set You Free”, you write also: “My view is that if the parents are ready and willing to listen and to express their feelings openly, such encounters can have therapeutic benefit for both them and their grown children”.
So I talk to my mother about my childhood, hoping this may have some therapeutic benefit for me. Also, I think that rejecting her completely now (especially after my father’s recent death) would be cruel and revengeful. From what I know, revenge does not help and it blocks the grief process. I don’t want to do this mistake.
But for some reason, after t he conversations with my mother I feel very confused. There is still anger in me on the mother SHE ONCE WAS, but I find it difficult to be angry at the mother SHE IS NOW, because she changed so much. I feel I am losing direction in these contradictions.
Can you please explain to me if and when forgiveness is NOT harmful?
Can you please explain what it means exactly, NOT to forgive?
Do you understand why I feel so confused, and is there a simple way out of this confusion?
AM: You write: ”But for some reason, after the conversations with my mother, I feel very confused. There is still anger in me at the mother SHE ONCE WAS, but I find it difficult to be angry at the mother SHE IS NOW, because she changed so much. I feel I am losing direction in these contradictions.”
Your body doesn’t ask you to be angry at your mother how she is now, but it needs that you feel consciously what you didn’t dare to feel THEN, when you were the defenseless child, abused by others and she didn’t defend you. The small child you were suppressed his rage into his body and it is THERE (instead of in your mind) until you can FEEL your anger stemming from then. Even if your mother became an angel now this would not change the fact that your body has inside the memory of being abused without any protection and that you are constantly afraid, as if you were a small child, to show THIS anger. It is tragic that your mother can’t help you now to do the work that only you can do. But it might be a good, relieving feeling for you to know that she could help HERSELF and you are free to help eventually the small child you once were to stay true to himself. You don’t need to forgive to feel free, (anyway, it would not work); you need the free access to your TRUE feelings (without moralistic and religious prescriptions). The obligation to forgive (for what reason and for whose benefit?) conceals this access.