Many of us who have been wounded in childhood may have been told by others we won’t find any true peace until we forgive. Most particularly if we are involved in church circles or other religious or spiritual communities forgiveness may be promoted as the ideal to aspire to. But the truth is a forgiveness that is assumed or forced before we have really worked through, felt and owned all the complex feelings we have experienced about what happened to us, may come at too a high price.
This kind of forgiveness may be premature and may lead us to make excuses for others who really aren’t showing the necessary contrition. It may keep us in denial or stalemated at the level of pure intellectual insight alone and it may keep us open to further abuse. If it comes at the cost of denial or minimisation of the depth of pain we went through we won’t truly gain the opportunity to heal at a deeper level.
I was reading through a really wonderful chapter in the book The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists : Coping With the One Way Relation ship in Work, Love and Family today which is a very concise and practical guide to understanding and healing from the childhood damage of being raised by narcissistic parents or those who put their own needs above and ignore, dismiss or minimise our own I thought it was really worth sharing here.
Grieving the losses and wounding in childhood may also involve recognising the unresolved losses our parents suffered in their own childhoods. As we see past the brambles of our own defences, we can also see past the defences of our parents. Yet again this is another place we can get stuck, if we are not careful.
Although we have gained a credible sense that our symptoms have a connection to how our parents cared for us in childhood, we may now hit the wall of our desire to protect our parents from any self reproach. We want to protect them from ‘blame’ and again fall back into our defence of denial. We would often prefer to believe that somehow we were the cause of painful parenting or stick to the cliché that ‘our parents did the best they could’ rather than look directly into our feelings of hurt and anger. In addition, we have multiple messages from society and religious teachings that tell us that the only way to release these feelings is through forgiveness. Here Alice Miller .. makes a compelling case in her book For Your Own Good.
‘Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but face it head on.’ She makes the point over and over again that when our history of childhood wounding is uncovered, then the repressed anger or rage will give way to the grief and sorrow that our parents were unable to treat us differently. At this point we can truly gain insight into our parent’s childhood and experience genuine, mature sympathy. Alice Miller illustrates through all of her books that the child’s natural response to parental demand is always to try to understand and accept the parent’s narcissistic expectations as a matter of course.
‘But he has to pay for this pseudo-understanding with his feelings and his sensitivity to his own needs, i.e., with his authentic self. This is why access to the normal, angry, uncomprehending and rebellious child he once was had previously been blocked off. When this child within the adult is liberated, he will discover his vital roots and strength…..To be free is to express resentment dating back to early childhood does not mean that one now becomes a resentful person, but rather the exact opposite.’
For the very reason that we are permitted to express these feelings that were once felt, but not allowable, we are liberated from the chains of our early defences and symptoms.
Being urged to forgive, or being told that we are doing something wrong for expressing these feeling of anger, rage or resentment before they are completely worked through places us back in repressive space. We can only truly forgive when we have felt it all through, grieved, felt angry and integrated these complex and painful feelings. It is a challenging process.
It is no one’s right to dictate to us what our forgiveness and / or healing process should be. And in healing we need to look for someone who helps us work through our true feelings and does not encourage us to keep our understanding on a purely intellectual level alone. As Eleanor Payson points out in her book they can only do this if they have removed their own rationalisations and denials and gained insight into the defences within themselves. They need to be someone who has the capacity to hold us in the midst of intense emotional states without shaming or judging until the work is done and our feelings are resolved.