Wednesday October 07, 2009

Dear Alice Miller

I just came across your work recently though I’ve been dealing with the
emotional neglect from my parents I have been dealing with for over half
my life of 50 + years. My “work” has included much soul searching,
introspection, therapy (15 + years), research (reading psychology books
especially about narcissistic parents) and spiritual struggles. Both of
my parents were bigger than life personalities and very verbal who loved
an audience and collected people and proclaimed themselves to their
children as christian role models for all. And they did have a
following. My brother and I were also to be the role models (my dad was
a minister and my mother an educator) and so others could see how great
they were. Both of my parents are now deceased, my mother recently. My
mother was actually the more rigid in her narcissism than my dad (though
I think my brother would disagree on that point given he broke off
contact with them in 1989 and then me in 1992). She was very displeased
when I tried to “separate” through out my life, though she told me me
she knew “I was very different from her from the day I was born” (I was
quiet compared to her. She was a leader and knew when she was 8 she was
chosen by God for special work .) She was looking more for admiration
than relationships and was not happy unless kept on a pedestal. My dad
was a “bully” but also had a soft spot for me so if I pushed back he
would listen a little. One of my biggest conflicts was the continuing
mantra from my mother about the importance of discipline, obeying one’s
mother, planning how one would act in all circumstances, no negatively
or emotion (you never want to fall apart), being a good student, etc.
The list goes on an on….she covered all the bases of life nearly and
if she didn’t know about it she would write if off as unimportant.
There was no space for me and my feelings of fear, insecurity or
accomplishment apart from her. When I did, she discounted them.
Outwardly they were friendly but a home I would hear every day of how
accomplished they were. There was no private family time. (Both my
parents could hide a lot of the negativity and criticism spoken at home
from their public.) During the time each of parents was dying , they
were quite amazed that I was not responding to their illnesses like
their “public” and showing more concern and giving them the accolades
they were looking for to recognize their accomplished lives. I ended up
having to distance myself from my mother even at the end because the
pain of being not seen was too great. (We did have a last few words
which were “civil” a few days before she died,though no recognition of
any area where she hurt me. She never did anything and I never heard
her apologize for anything.)

Somehow I have managed to find a reasonably good space for myself though
I’m still working it through. It’s been found mostly through being a
single parent for about 7 years(when my first husband and I divorced
shortly after our son was born) and not repeating the parenting mistakes
of my parents. (My first marriage was definitely me trying to be
acceptable and a remake of my parents lives.) And then being married to
a wonderful man for going on 10. We’ve been very aware of our family of
origin issues and been working on pushing those back. He’s a great step
father and my son is doing well at 18. I also look back to my education
and eventually studied subjects in college and grad school for me and
have a career that does not touch on my parents world. During the past
7 years or so, I have discovered simple things to enjoy (walking,
reading, eating…)

Now the main point I wanted to share – regarding forgiveness. I
understand from your writing that you believe that the 4th commandment
(honor your father and mother) does not apply in the cases of child
abuse, neglect and that thought is expanded to include forgiveness. I
have struggled with the concept and act (continuing act) of
forgiveness. My mother was infamous for throwing up in my face – “you
are not practicing Christian forgiveness” regarding my behaviors toward
her. In her definition and I think the understanding of many,
forgiveness equates to forgive and forget. I believe it is important to
forgive *but _not_ forget*. It has been important for me to forgive my
parents in that I did not want harm to come to them. (Though my anger,
misplaced guilt it was my fault they didn’t love me, depression and
sense of loss I feel related to my relationship toward them has been on
going for years.) I do not want my feelings of anger, loss and hurt to
affect me so I would I seek revenge on them or lash out to others as a
result of my anger. But I’ve also kept my ground. I will not
forget/deny the ongoing hurt from them through my life. In this way I
say to myself – my life matters. Many times I sought them (especially
my mother) to build a different kind of relationship (my ex-husband and
I were able to to this). However, my mother wanted nothing of this.
For her, forgiveness meant, forgive so we can go back to the way things
were (e.g., she is queen). As a result I ended up realizing prior to
her death that my mother never really loved me and wasn’t going to. She
talked about being admired, not love. I realized I could not trust her
as I had for most of my life with my well being. This was very
traumatic. I grieved more before she died than I have after.

I believe that Jesus preached this kind of forgiveness – forgive but not
forget. I believe I am a child of a God who loves me as demonstrated in
Jesus who reached out to children, women, and the outcasts of society in
love. He saw the them, he listened and he loved them. Jesus defied the
smugness of the religious establishment openly and their proclamation of
knowing the law and who was special.. Jesus recognized the failings of
humankind… Through my life I have seen and experienced how God has
reached out to me in love through others in the most unexpected
ways…this has helped me reach above the hurt and feelings of
abandonment and rejection of realizing I did not having the parents I
thought I had. Even though I had to give up on my parents for my own
survival and to find myself, I have not given up on God or want to limit
God by the failings of humans.

Alice , you can publish this letter but please use my pen name – Ann Rubens.

AM: You are lucky that God enables you to forgive cruelties without letting your body or your son to pay for this forgiveness.