Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Anger/Forgiveness

(I do not want to out any of my siblings here on my blog. They were victims of my parents in their own ways, and they can tell their stories on their own terms. I will only talk about my experiences.)

When the sexual abuse issue came to light in my family, it was not pretty. I had never told anyone in my family, only my therapists and R and a few of my roommates. In fact, the sexual abuse was a secret until 4 years ago. I remember, because I was prego with M when it all hit the fan. After sitting on the information for a few months, R and I decided that we needed to call the police and have them arrest my dad. My bishop in Michigan at the time agreed, as did the bishop of my family in California. Those are the logistics of the situation. One fine day everything fell into place and I felt ready to call. So I did.

My dad was arrested and the rest of the family that did not already know found out. My dad was sentenced a few months later to a year of house arrest and 5 tears probation. The state also had a restraining order put on him in my behalf, which I did not appreciate at the time but have come to be thankful for. The church disfellowshipped him. (An aside: do I think that a child abuser deserves to be excommunicated? Yes. In every case. If you are truly repentant, then you can get rebaptized later. After you do a bunch of soul searching and apologizing and therapy and making-it-right. I will rant about this some other time.)

I found this process cathartic. After so many years it was finally out. My siblings knew about what I had gone through, and it brought us closer over time. My aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents finally knew, and said they loved me.

However, my mother insisted that we all work on forgiving my dad. She pushed me hard. And I automatically pushed back. I realized something then. You do not have to talk to your abuser to forgive them. You do not have to be around your abuser to forgive them. You do not have to like your abuser to forgive them. I then saw with more clarity how I was, at that very moment, being emotionally abused by my mother as well.

But now I was armed with this knowledge. I did not have to talk to my mom either. Our conversations were nothing but emotional blackmail to get me to be around her and my dad and reassure them that what they had done was understandable. My mom would try and shame me with church-type arguments: don't you think it's time to forgive and not be angry? She would bully me into speaking to my father, before I was ready, even when I said no repeatedly. I started piecing together the depth of her enabling my father and manipulation of, well, everyone. It made me so angry. The anger was an important piece.

I have decided not to speak to my parents anymore. I will save the story of how that happened for another post. Ultimately it came down to this: I was trying to grow, change, move through the pain, go to therapy, make good boundaries, and to be aware of how I was feeling, to acknowledge it and embrace it. But my parents wanted validation for what had happened as if to say "I know I abused you, but you have to understand where I am coming from too". Do I?

Now we are back to the anger. In my opinion, until you get really, consumingly mad you cannot move to forgiveness. Believe me, I tried. I tried forgiving before I admitted I was angry and betrayed and broken. Between my crappy home life and the Mormon culture I grew up in, I got a clear message: anger is bad, anger doesn't help. Wrong! Anger is what it is. Anger is a part of the process. Anger is a part that is just as valid and necessary as the forgiveness part.

I also like to remember that anger is a secondary emotion. You get angry because of something else: hurt, pain, sadness, etc. The anger is your indication of something deeper going on. And then, if you embrace the anger and revel in it, you can fully appreciate when you are no longer angry. You should feel angry if you are abused. Embrace it.

I read a book called Toxic Parents by Susan Forward. It encouraged writing letters to your abusers, whether you sent them or not. The meaningful part was the writing. I have my angry letter. I wrote it over several months time, and I still sometimes reread it. I have some semblance of forgiveness for my parents now. It has taken 4 years. And it isn't finished. And if it took 20 years that would be okay too. Anger first, forgiveness later. Real forgiveness.

5 comments:

GG said...

Anger has so many forms.
I definitely feel one form of anger, relatively often, that (when I allow it to progress) leads me to step in a good direction. A part of a progression. I just can't dwell on the anger to the point that I don't move to the next step.

With two of my 'deeper' experiences, I believe that I reached the real forgiveness stage, but because I can't 'completely' forget, ("forgive and forget") then I sometimes forget that that it's ok now and I find myself angry again at the original hurt - what I was supposed to have forgotten about after the forgiveness part - the pain comes back with it and I have to grab hold of the reins and remind myself of the steps.
I've gotten better at it - easier and quicker over time. No less complete than the first time and probably makes for good practice for future hurts, potentially from the same person.
Also, in some instances, not necessarily the same ones, I try to separate past 'hurts' from the person that caused them - in my mind- so that I don't associate them together so much. It gives them more of a clean slate than it would otherwise - further allowing me to forget and continue to feel that I forgave them.

I think that English is sometimes a weak language. I bet Greek or Hebrew or some other ancient language would have had like 10 words for all the different kinds of "anger" ...and "forget".
:) Ya know what I mean!?!

k said...

I do!

Jacque said...

My mom always says anger is the dummy light on your dashboard telling you something is wrong. I always get so much more done when I'm angry! =) I think it definitely motivates change when it's needed. Thanks for sharing your story. I think we always have to rediscover ourselves to help us grow and become better... even though it hurts sometimes. (personally I like avoiding it by watching tv, but whatever...)

Kristi said...

I continue to be so amazed with your ability to identify and move forward. You are a great example of overcoming great obstacles. I know that it is a work in progress but progress is the key. I love you K!

Brittany said...

K, I love reading your blog, not only of your personal journey but your adventures with your kids. I love your writing style and the voice you put behind it all.