Monday, December 19, 2016

Thought to Ponder: to walk away and / or be open to transformations

So often we read advice that tells us to walk away from toxic relationships as the solution to our problems. The problem is that I am pretty sure almost every one of us has a toxic behaviour pattern that we internalized without even realizing it.

I believe we all have to some degree learned toxic behaviour as children growing up. These are defensive traits that we internalize to "protect" the fragile child self. These habits helped us to survive childhood where we are dependent upon others to have our needs met. We learned to do what we needed to do to remain in the “good graces” of those who were our caretakers.

As we grow up some of us learn to "moderate" these toxic behaviours but I think for the most part we do not.  After all why change what seems to be working?

Mostly I think it is a case of awareness and that awareness comes to us at different stages in our lives dependent on what difficulties we face and what learning we do to navigate those difficulties.

For example my sister and I grew up in a home that always pitted us against each other. The "good" child got the love and the "bad" child was punished by being neglected (i.e. not shown love). So we were always in competition for this scare commodity “love”.

While I learned to be a "people pleaser" to earn validation and love; my sister learned to do the same to others in her those who give her what she wants, and ostracize those who do not give her what she wants.

Both behaviours are toxic in a different way.

The people pleaser gives from a place of neediness (trying to earn love) rather than whole hearted giving and thus is the easily manipulated "door mat" personality.  The "narcissistic" personality continues to manipulate others to get the love they need.   Because it works, for a long time there appears to be no need to change as both “seem” to be getting what they need.

When these two opposing styles of dealing with conflict come face to face theirs is a toxic imbalance, but it is one that on the surface appears to function.  As long as the giver giving balances the needs of the manipulator, the relationship functions, but each person pays a price.  The people pleaser feels guilt when they don’t give enough and the manipulator has the false impression that the relationship works because it works for them and they have no idea the price the other person pays to maintain the relationship. As long as neither awakens to their nature / personality this is a working relationship but it is not a close  or intimate relationship.

However when one person has an awakening, usually the people pleaser starting to understand why they feel so used, the balance in the relationship changes. 

When the giver stops giving in to the need to earn acceptance love or validation then the imbalance is exposed.  When this happens one or even both of the people in the relationship feel the need to step back to "self-protect". 

The manipulator is confused as to why the giver has stepped away and they in turn step away because they are no longer getting the acquiescence that they need. The problem stems from the fact that neither learned the skills of effective communication because for so long the imbalanced relationship seemed to work.

In my opinion the problem is not in the learned behavious patterns (they are simply what they are, learned traits) but rather the fact that #1 there is little awareness about these traits and #2 the tools needed to understand and change these old ineffective behaviour patterns are not readily at our disposal.  

In the absence of effective awareness and learning opportunities, we have seen the rise of a certain class of so called "advice" givers that advocate for walking away from toxic relationships rather than working through toward a healing of the relationship. True, the easy solution is to end a toxic relationship that no longer works.  However there is another path provided both parties are willing to do the work.

I believe there needs to be far more talk about the process of working on how we deal with each other, and where those coping mechanisms came from and how to change our learned patterns of behaviour.

To simply advocate for a break in a relationship we do not address the coping mechanisms that no longer work.  We blame the other person for a coping mechanism that has worked for them just fine for many years and where it is entirely possible they don’t even realize they are using a coping mechanism that is destructive to the other person in the relationship.

I think possibly some advice givers are in a popularity contest.  To advocate the easy solution first (disengage from toxic relationships), they give people the “no work option”.  And naturally most people don’t want to work on relationships when the going gets tough. For really who wants to hear about the hard work of repairing and relearning when the easy road is to ostracize and blame and use that as a tool to cut ties.  And so they get a following, all the people that say “yes, just walk away.”

It is easier to just move on and hope that the next relationship will be better.  Of course the problem is that you then take those same old bad habits with you and the next relationship will suffer a similar demise if nothing has been gained through the hard work of self-evaluation and change. 

The advice givers who suggest the hard work of transformation seem not be nearly as popular. They tell us what we need (change forged through hard work) as opposed to what we would like (an easy fix).  Those who advocate that we  focus much more awareness on the aspects of healing relationships through understanding personality conflicts and how to resolve issues through communication are often tuned out simply because let’s face it, most of us are lazy when it comes to the work of changing our bad habit in relationships.

Of course both parties in the broken relationship must be willing to do the work.  That is a given.  However, in relationships we must be open to the concept that the other person is unaware and needs an opportunity to become open to change.  How do we do that? 

As far as I have been able to find, there is far too little information on this topic.  I for one; have not been taught the communications skills needed and I presume that most other people have not been taught these skills either.  We have been taught to accuse, blame, lay guilt trips and find fault with the other person. We have not been taught how to effectively communicate how we feel. (The operative word here is effectively, for all too often when we try to let another person know how we feel they hear a complaint, accusation, blame etc.).  Because of this lack we of communication skills we react to negative situations with negative words and / or actions often escalating a dispute just when we need to be at our most effective a diffusing a situation.

So as I understand better the difficulty of the challenge; I wonder if the so called "advice givers" who advocate for ending toxically imbalanced relationships, have in their own experience found the work of transforming and fixing is possibly too great a challenge and / or one they have not experienced any success at.

Of course the further challenge is for me to continue to learn the skills I need, to transform and change myself in a healing and healthy way, so that when given opportunities to repair difficult relationships I can do so effectively from a place of greater self-awareness and also greater compassion for the other person who is facing probably for the first time the growing awareness that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with and that they too are going to be required to change old habits and traits that are ineffective at creating the very closeness that they too desire.

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 12 – 19 

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Post estrangement: the most hurtful statement of all “if you only apologize”

I believe that parents who have been estranged are on the receiving end of a lot of criticism.  They are often blamed or scapegoated for being on the receiving end of ostracism.  More often than not the message is expressed in self-righteousness as in “you must have done something to deserve it”.   And yet I rarely had great difficulty dealing with these kinds of people, because I understood that they were ignorant, and their words, hurtful as they may be came from that ignorance. 

Of course at the same time I was also battling my own self-flagellation where I blamed myself for being inadequate.  I examined every word every action under the microscope of hindsight seeking for the mistakes that I made. (And yes I made my list of things I needed to apologize for and wrote the letters as advised.) 

However there is a kind of judge mentalism that I find hard to tolerate; that is when someone says “Well all you have to do is apologize”. 

This is in my opinion the most insensitive and discouraging of all come backs that people make toward a parent that has been estranged. And sadly enough even some parents who are estranged believe also that if only they can word the apology just right then they will be taken back. How often have I seen parents blasting other parents to “just apologize!”  This is a really low blow. 

First of all most parents that have been estranged do “do the apology thing” first and think about it later.  In the early stages of estrangement most parents are so willing to “do anything” to make it end that they will blanket apologize for everything and anything they did wrong in hopes of begging their way back into good standing. I have known parents to grovel and beg, offering themselves up to walking on eggshells in fear that any misstep will once again precipitate rejection.

I confess; I too did several apologies.  All of them were met with silence!   The message became clear to me; even your apologies are not good enough.

It has taken me a long time to figure something out.  Offspring that estrange don’t want an apology if the apology is meant as a preface to communication and dialogue. Only the ones who “want” to work on repairing the relationship respond to an apology.  It is just like any other amends program, you offer the apology, but the recipient can decline.

When an apology is declined there is a message as well.   The nonverbal message is; “I am not yet over whatever it is I am holding against you.  I want to perpetuate the grudge.  I want to continue to show my power over you so the emotional abuse can continue, because power over you makes me feel better about myself.”

You see communication requires surrendering power and control. Declining an apology is about control.  As long as they control the situation they are powerful.  Rejecting an apology they are still in control.

So the question that really ought to be asked is not “why don’t you apologize” but “why are your apologies rejected? 

The rejecting of an apology says more about the rejecter than the person offering the apology. The person offering the apology says; here I am, I am offering up my inadequacies for your judgement, I am ready to atone.  The person rejecting says; I am not ready, I have my own agenda, I have not yet finished what I set out to prove to you.

The evidence is growing steadily and daily that estrangement is an epidemic with 1 in four families now affected. With that many families sending apologies surely there would be a higher rate of reconciliations than there is if all it took was an apology to open the lines of communication. 

There are even those now in the mental health care industry that are talking about this strange turn of events; rising numbers of estrangements and very few reconciliations.  The old standard for growing up and expressing autonomy does not explain this phenomenon! 

What this tells me is that it is not about the “right apology” it is about control and power.  Those who want equal relationships want dialogue and communication.  Those are the apologies that are received and used as a starting point for reconciliation. Those are relationships of adult child becoming autonomous within their own rights. 

Those adults who ignore apologies, who do not even respond with what their grievance are, don’t want an equal relationship, they want an empowered relationship where they are in charge. 

Then there are those adult offspring, in the rare instances, where they do reply to an apology and do so with a list of “demands”.  They very clearly voice those demands in language that says I am in control, do as I demand or I withhold myself from interacting with you.  Any attempt to reconcile without acquiescing to the demands is turned down flat.  This is not an act of communication and compromise, it clearly is about control. 

If you have this many estrangements being perpetuated in spite of apologies delivered, in spite of efforts made to open lines of communication, in spite of willingness to forgive the pain experienced because of estrangement, surely the problem is going much deeper than no apology extended. 

And yet still the most often heard critique an estranged parent continues to receive is; “why don’t you just apologize”.  The most hurtful, condescending sentiment of them all because it comes from the unfounded assumption that the estranged parent hasn’t tried hard enough, done enough, worked diligently enough to resolve a situation they wish fervently they were not experiencing in the first place.

Renate Dundys Marrello

2016 – 12 – 12  

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Post Estrangement: coming to terms with feeling lonely.....and used

There is a saying that I recently saw:

“The person who tries to keep everyone happy and always cares for everyone is often the loneliest person. Strange but true”

What exactly is the nature of this loneliness and does it relate to a person who has been estranged is what I am seeking to explore.

Feeling lonely after being estranged I think is one of the natural emotions that we feel.  I know that at the heart of my sadness is the void, this feeling of being alone. Connecting with others simply isn't the same anymore.  Everything is coloured by the experience of being rejected or abandoned and tangled up with this is the feeling of "not being good enough.

The loss of trust in others, is another one of the things that contributes to this loneliness.

Naturally one of the feelings that we start to process throughout of all of this; is the thought of being used.  Has our usefulness come to an end and therefore we are discarded?

I know for myself this has been something that I have been grappling with, the feeling that I have been "used up" and that because  of how I was feeling and when for own my emotional health I had to say; "no, I can no longer allow myself to be used / treated this way", contributed to being estranged.  When I had no more to "give" I was of no more value, and because I had no more value it was easy to find reasons and excuses to discard me.

I have spoken to many estranged parents on this topic and they all at some point in time say something to the effect that they feel like refuse thrown to the curb for having outlived their usefulness.

Sooner or later we need to address the deeper aspects of this loneliness that comes from a feeling of being used and then discarded. Unless we do this work we won't be able to take back our love and joy of generosity toward others.

One of the issues we need to contend with is what most people recognize as the "doormat syndrome", others call this co-dependency, where self sacrifice in the name of other people's happiness and well-being becomes the way we learn to define ourselves.

I see two pathways that intermingle and twine together so that over time we don't recognize where one ends and the other one begins. The first is our personality, which comes from the messages we learned during childhood about the nature of our value and the second is the parent's natural instinct to give and do for their child so that their child can prosper.  And so we bring to parenting a set of values that we learned and integrated into our character and at the same time an overwhelming biological desire to care for and do right by our offspring.

As parents we well understand the nature of sacrifice and doing for our children. But depending on our intrinsic character as defined by the values we internalized we might not have learned where to draw the line between care taking and care giving.

For example; when as a parent you are taking care of everyone else, our children don't necessarily see that you too need some taking care of. Children can learn to take all that we do for granted.  They start to see us as this super person who can do it all.  The more you do, the more you are expected to do.

If we did not learn the "correct" values for balance then we are incapable to teaching this boundary to our children because we have no reference point.  This is one of those areas where what we "learn" or "don't learn" from our parents then shows up in our lives.  If we learned that our value is in what we "do" for our parents to earn love, then we in turn "do" for our children to earn love and they in turn learn that they "deserve" or are entitled to all we do for them.

The problem with continual giving, or the co-dependents need to put everyone else's happiness first is that the day comes when inside yourself, you feel all used up.  I first experienced that as loneliness which I expressed to myself as "no one understands me".

That was when I started to awaken to the fact that I was being taken for granted, that I was now expected to take care of everyone, that it is my role and my duty.  At this point in time it was no longer the things that I did for others as much as the emotional support I was expected to give regardless of how I felt about it.  I was expected to accept rudeness, curtness and dismissal in return for acceptance, validation and encouragement.

The more marginalized I was made to feel, the less validated my feelings were, the more resentment boiled up inside of me.  And of course when all those emotions are bottled up inside 
(for when you have been taught that anger is never expressed you suppress it) sooner or later there is a "break". 

Looking back now I see that it was inevitable that the day would come; when an incident happened that was so rude and so disrespectful that the dam broke, I acted out of character, said things I would never have said without extreme provocation.  And it is an interesting aside that I am expected to apologize for that outburst while those who treated me badly over a long period of time don't feel any need at all to apologize for how they treated me and how that eventually led to my break in character. 

That of course brings me back to the present.  The realization that I am alone in my healing journey. No one can do this for me.  The loneliness that I experience is a culmination of many factors, yes the estrangement which started it all; but also my growing awareness of the "wrong" input I received in my childhood leaving me with no sense of boundaries and growing knowledge that I had to learn a completely new vocabulary for communication based on an understanding of feelings and needs.

In that sense this loneliness became for me the springboard for change;  for redefining what is means to give and why.

We start with the acceptance of the premise that we do for others and care for others because we want to; it is a gift we share. It is part of our human nature.  To what extent is this truth shaped by how we perceive the purpose of the act of giving?

To what degree this is true in my experiences?
When I do for others it is because there is joy in the giving.

However, those of us who are by nature “givers”, often have a boundary awareness problem. I know for sure that I had no idea what a boundary was.

The “doormat” phenomenon is one that stems from faulty messages learned from our upbringing and / or the society we grew up in. Faulty messages lead to faulty core values.

For instance if we internalized faulty messages like:
  • we “earn” love by our giving actions
  • our value is in our service and sacrifice
  • It is our responsibility to be care takers.

Then we have a faulty set of core values which we need to address and rewrite into our own more accurate core values:
  • Giving actions are not about earning love but about expressing love.
  • We have value because we are not because of what we do. When we choose to give it should come from a sense of purpose and not from a sense of creating self-value.
  • When we take care of someone we rob them of the opportunity to care for themselves; we must give our caring in such a manner as to foster their ability to develop their own strengths, thus becoming a care giver not a care taker.

Other boundary awareness issues that “doormat” or co-dependent personalities were not taught or did not learn:
  • We need to take time for ourselves and that it is okay to take “me time”. To feel guilty about taking time for oneself is clearly a faulty core value.
  • That it is okay to ask for help. We instead learned that to ask for help is sign of weakness, and that one must hide weakness at all costs.
  • That it is okay to stop giving when we begin to be taken for granted. It is wrong to have learned that when the first giving was not good enough that we then should give more and more because the fault is with us for not giving enough or in a satisfactory enough manner.

So if we are to become “aware” givers what are some of the signs of being taken advantage of? How can we reset our boundaries to receive the “joy of giving” without becoming a target for manipulative people to gain our compliance?

Here are some obvious signs that you are being (have been) taken advantage of:
  • You are not given any kind of gratitude response from the recipient. No word of thanks, no smile, no recognition that a gift of caring has been received.
  • When you do ask for some help you are mocked or called names.
  • You are called selfish when you do take a break and spend some time taking care of yourself to replenish your energies.
  • You are sidelined or removed by a friend or family member as soon as the giving is reduced because your financial or emotional means no longer support the ability to give.

It is vitally important for those of us who have been trained into the role of doormat to clarifying our core values with appropriate boundary work which allows us to gain the awareness needed to be truly a giver for the joy of giving.

We must leave behind the old mindset, freeing ourselves from all sense of “obligation” where we are “expected to give” to earn our acceptance or to free the other person from their share of the emotional labour needed to preserve a healthy relationship.

As I change, I find it is important to remember, those who do not like these changes in my mindset and my actions are most likely the ones who benefited the most from my doormat behaviours in the past. Their interests are not my best interests but rather how my actions no longer benefit them. 

And conversely, those who love me for me not for what I do for them are the ones that rejoice with me.
Can you guess who will be the recipients of my generosity in the future?

To come full circle, the healing that I do now is something I do to honour myself.  I am not the person that was estranged, I am actually, while still a work in progress; a better more knowledgeable more balanced version of me. 

Moreover while I understand better the character and personality issues that triggered the chain of events that led to estrangement, it in no way excuses their behaviour. Yes I accept that if I had known and taught proper boundaries some of this situations maybe could have been avoided.

However that does not change the fact that all parties in a dispute have to take responsibility and accountability for their actions.  And as the silent years flow by, I begin to wonder if possibly I am the only one doing so?  Am I only one working on awareness, understanding, change and growth?  

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 12 – 04 

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Monday, November 28, 2016

November Reflections:

Fall grasses in Sleeping Turtle Preserve
One of the interesting things about the fall in Florida is that the signs are much more subtle than in the northern regions. 

However there are clear signs of fall for the observant to see. 

The nights are cooler. 
The tall grasses have turned brown.
The trees that lose their foliage are bare.
The fall flowers are in bloom.
The most exciting however, for me is to see the birds growing their mating plumage. 

These are all signs that nature is ending one part of the cycle of life and beginning the next. 

This message reflects my own life, I am facing the ending of a rather important cycle in my life and facing the challenges of embracing the new cycle before me. 

Nature shows me that it is possible to have endings and beginnings intertwined.

Renate Dundys Marrello

2015 – 11 – 27

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Post Estrangement: The task of letting go.

I am a work in progress.  

I am letting go.

I write about the process as a way of focusing my thoughts.

I find it interesting when I post about the pain of estrangement I get tons of feedback and replies and comments.

And yet when I post about the process of healing I get very few comments and even less feedback.  What I do often get is sad negative, comments announcing in black and white that "I will never heal"  or "that is too hard to do".

Still I persist in working on healing, because it is the way forward. 
  • Yes the past sucks. 
  • Yes the past is unfair. 
  • Yes the past is something I view with regret and anger and all the other negative words. 
But I don't live in the past.  I also don't live in the imaginary world where all will be better if only the other person has a change of heart. I try to live in the world of what is.  

This is it.  I have been estranged.
This is my life.  I live the abandonment.

Sure it sucks, and yes this bad thing has happened to me.  But those events I will not be given the power nor be allowed to define who I am now and who I am becoming.

I will not put my life on hold waiting for some change to happen in the others that have plunged my life into turmoil.  


Because that gives them power over me.  If I can't be happy until THEY change I have handed them the keys to my happiness. 

I refuse to give them that kind of power over me, over MY life.

Therefore, I am letting go. 
Some days I wish letting go was easier or faster, but that never stops me from working on letting go.

Letting go opens me up to the new, the possible, the other.

Letting go makes possible those events and experiences that are not available to me as long as I live in the past or in the state of wistful hoping for a change that is in someone else's hands.

I choose to embrace the changes that are within my influence.

In this manner I take back my power.
In this manner I take back my present and my future.

My life is filled with opportunities just waiting for me to embrace them. 

Renate Dundys Marrello

2016 - 10 - 30

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Post Estrangement: Motivation to remain on a healing path

Staying on a healing path is hard work.  I am reminded about this every day not only by my own struggles but by the feed back that I get from my readers.

The most discouraging messages that I get are the ones from those in the early stages of grief that say "I will never get over this"  or even more disheartening ones that say; "I try and I try but I don't seem to be getting any better".

And yet I keep forging forward on this difficult journey, not because I am in any way unique but because I am stubborn. I have decided that I will do whatever it takes to heal, to move forward with a life filled with those things that matter to me, love, compassion, forgiveness and faith that the path I am one is the one I am meant to walk.

I think the important thing for me to keep revisiting is that healing does not shut my heart to the pain of estrangement nor does it end the sorrow that I feel over what has been lost. 

Healing however allows me to find peace within myself, to not live each day as though estrangement was "the" end, but rather an ending.

In being estranged I have had to learn a way to see beyond this ending towards a new beginning, while at the same time accepting and recognizing that this is not the way I wanted things to be, accepting the shattered dreams and that my expected might have beens will never come to pass.

As much as I struggle with this I also wish to hold out hope to others that healing is possible.  Healing does not restore what was, but it does affirm that my life matters.

Today I  saw a message by Les Brown and the sentence that spoke to me most deeply was this: 

“It is time to hold your head up and 
decide to never let anything turn 
you around.” ~ Les Brown

This reminded me that one of the great hurdles to overcome in healing from a traumatic experience is the shame of worthlessness.  It is often the one thing that pushes me back harder than my healing and moving forwards energy can offset.  And yet it is the one thing that at the same time makes me dig in my heels in obstinate refusal to give up.

When negative or disempowering thoughts threaten to overwhelm me, to turn me around from my forward healing path it is when I most have to remember to believe in my own power of goodness.

It is in developing a strong belief in my values and their ability to keep me on track, which keeps me believing that I have the ability to rise above my negative inner bully.  It is remembering that these negative thoughts originated with those who would bring me down that keeps me fighting harder than ever to climb out of the prison of dis-empowerment.

My refusal to accept emotional defeat because of the opinions and actions of others is one of my strongest assets.  I refuse to allow their bullying behaviour to sabotage my life, my healing journey, my core values and beliefs. I refuse to be defeated by cruelty and abuse.  Yes I may suffer the scars of emotional trauma, but that will not keep me from celebrating the goodness within me. 

I may not be strong enough yet to stand up to them face to face in verbal combat, but I am strong enough to defend my inner honour and integrity; to put up boundaries that prevent those negative attacks passing within, to my safe place.

Within the walls of my sanctuary I know my worth, I respect my principles, I celebrate my dreams, and I risk getting to know what my true potential is and most importantly, I love who I am becoming.

Renate Dundys Marrello

2016 – 10 – 11 

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Reflections on my Healing Journey

Recently I had the honour of participating in a journey of discovery and reflection at The Longhouse Quiet Land Healing Lodge. During the women’s sharing circle, Grandmother’s words were spoken by Gentle Birdwoman that continue to resonate within my spirit.

“baa shaa-way daan” “In A Sacred Way, May We Be”

I want to continue to remember these words and also the wisdom about using “we” instead of “I”.

So much of our lives are framed by the concepts of me and I and mine; my pain, my happiness, my life, my friends, my feelings. Even in healing we seek in an ego centric way; I want to feel better, I want to discover my destiny, my purpose, my spiritual path.

For 7 years now I have been walking a path of seeking healing and connection and purpose. And I realize now it has been all about me and my needs and desires and goals. Yes I have learned to pray for others through working on developing compassion in my wounded heart. I have learned to wrestle with the hard journey of forgiveness. I have learned how to accept and honour the pain in others, accepting them for who they are, even while protecting myself from the harm they inflict upon my spirit.

What I have not before encountered is the concept of “we”; “In A Sacred Way, May We Be”. 

To acknowledge that as much as I want a spiritually guided journey to understanding the goodness possible within me, I have to also want that same goodness for others, even those who have harmed me.

I have often played with the idea that praying for the healing of the hearts of those who harm others is part of a sacred journey. I have even introduced into my daily reflections times to send prayers of healing even to those who are the source of my sorrow, the sorrow of the world, the harm to Mother Nature. But “In A Sacred Way, May We Be” is even more powerful.

It reminds me that I do not heal in isolation. Yes I travel the soul searching journey alone, I struggle and learn in isolation, I discover my pathway and this discovery is all good. But these words; “In A Sacred Way, May We Be”, remind me that if only I heal then my relationships with those who are still wounded are not healed. They remind me that if only I heal then the world’s sorrows do not heal and if only I heal then Mother Nature remains wounded.

“In A Sacred Way, May We Be” reminds me that a prayer must be inclusive for all. 

To be included in my healing journey are those who have begun the journey, those who have begun to seek the path and those who are not yet upon the path and even for those who do not even yet realize that there is a path to be found.

Even as I discover my own healing I must pray for and include all; even, or maybe especially, those whose actions thrust me out of my comfort zone and forced upon me the discomfort, sorrow and anguish that set me upon this path.

My new friend Gentle Birdwoman wrote; “Together, we are always stronger”.

This strength begins by supporting those who understand because they share the path of sorrow and the challenges of healing. However, it can’t stop there. After finding the strength to heal the self, there is the next challenge of praying for the healing of the “other” and the healing of the “we”.

Renate Dundys Marrello
2016 – 10 – 07

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Post Estrangement: The conflict of Forgiveness

A question that I see posted quite often is; “How to forgive?” Essentially, how does one move from being so filled with anger and resentment that we rage out saying “I will never forgive” to place where we become filled with compassion and the ability to day “I may be able to forgive”?

This is such a difficult topic. There are so many articles admonishing us to forgive.  There is always the implication that you can't heal unless you forgive, like it is an either or possibility.

Forgiveness is touted as the path to letting go, to moving forward, to not letting the past cloud your present.  There are so many euphemisms about why we should forgive. 

Sometimes reading them all it is like this huge cloud of guilt being shoved at me that if I don’t forgive I am somehow unworthy.  At times I resented those “holier than thou” preachers that demanded that I forgive if  I wanted to be a responsible, respectable, healthy person.  The opposite is clearly left hanging in the unaddressed part, there is something wrong, unworthy, unacceptable in me if I don't simple bend to the expectation that I forgive.

And yet as estranged parents; we are being asked to forgive offspring that are determined to never forgive us for our shortcomings.  After all the reason they estrange is because in their minds we have done such a poor job of raising them, that they feel justified in hurting and punishing us  for the rest of our lives for our  failures.   They have no intention of ever forgiving us!  But over and over again we are told by the “grief therapists” that we MUST forgive. 

As with so many other areas of estrangement there is this enormous and inexplicable double standard. 

One standard is applied to the offspring that do the estranging.  The some prevailing therapist wisdom is that they must never forgive; they must forever hold on to their veritable list of grudges, they must never seek reconciliation. They are told that they must continue to abandon loving parents because they are flawed (toxic is the word they use). They are even told that such  actions are justified, acceptable and excusable. Under no circumstances must they ever allow the thought of forgiving their parents enter their minds, and the estranging offspring actually form groups encourage each other to stand strong and united against the mistake of forgiving parents for the horrendous crime of not being perfect.  Forgiveness / reconciliation is a sign of weakness and must never be considered.  To apologize for hurting the parent with silent treatment and abandonment is never even contemplated, rather the ostracism is encouraged to continue lifelong rather than to open communication and mend the relationship.

A second completely opposite standard is applied to the parents that have been estranged. Estranged parents are told repeatedly that they MUST apologize profusely for every unintentional mistake they ever made.  They must not only own up to every parenting mistake they ever made, they are expected to take on the scapegoat role so that the offspring never have to face their own issues and responsibilities. Some therapists even advocate that the parent beg and plead for the opportunity to atone simply to make it easier on the adult offspring to not feel guilty.  
Estranged parents are told repeatedly that they MUST find forgiveness in their hearts. We are told by many that would counsel us, that in order to heal from the grief we MUST forgive the offspring for abandoning us. 

It is this implication that there is something wrong with me if I find it difficult to forgive that I have found particularly frustrating.  It is almost as though I am being punished for feeling aggrieved.  The implication is that  I am a lesser person because forgiving is difficult for me, that this
 somehow means that I am flawed.

It is when I am made to feel that
 I am inferior to those who do the hurting of ostracism and rejection and beneath those who refuse to forgive me, that I find myself becoming most obstinate.  The advice that I MUST forgive or be judged “a lesser person” is what I find particularly heinous. 

And yet, I find that for my own peace of mind I must wrestle with the concept of forgiveness far more than any estranging offspring struggles with the consequences of their decisions and actions to not ever forgive.

For me, forgiveness is a huge issue. There are parts of forgiveness that I still struggle with.  And I have been thinking about and reading about and writing about forgiveness since March 2015.  The conclusion that I keep coming back to is that forgiveness is an ongoing thing.  It is not something you do once and then say “there that is done.”   There are too many levels and nuances to be wrestled with. 

There is letting go, there is ruminating less, there is accepting what can’t be changed, there is examining the self to be aware of any tendency to remain stuck in retaliation thinking, there is learning about the difference between forgiveness and atonement, deliberating on the link between apology and forgiveness and finally there is the awareness of how one would handle an attempt at reconciliation and the preparation required to be in a frame of mind to deal with such a reconciliation.

In the process of studying forgiveness I have come to the conclusion that we use one word to express too many different concepts as though forgiveness is a simple thing, a question of either you do or you don't.

I don't believe it is that simple, I have come to believe that forgiveness is a complicated process filled with complex emotional connections within oneself and within the relationship one has with the person we feel we maybe ought to forgive.

Like the ancient Greeks who had many words of the different kinds of love and the Inuit who have many words to describe the different kinds of snow; I believe forgiveness should have many words to describe it.

However in our language and our culture we have only the one word and so in order to make sense of the concept of forgiveness we each have to struggle with how each aspect affects us an individual.

For me there were some very important things that I had to come to terms with. Let me share a few of them with you and thus possibly help you on your own journey of discovering what forgiveness means to you.  

#1 Let go of the rage
For me this was vitally important. I had to get over the rage that made me want to inflict retaliatory pain back at the person who caused all my suffering.  I am not a vindictive person, I have never in my life "repaid" others in equal measure to the way they treated me.  However for the first time in my life I plotted revenge.  This scared me deeply for it was so out of character for me and that was why this was the most important stage of forgiveness for me. 

To let go of my need to seek revenge was my primary goal during my initial attempts at healing.   I have seen it written that when you no longer seek revenge you have in fact forgiven the other person.  It was the hope that I clung to in my early healing days.  Over time I came to actually see this only as a first step toward forgiveness, with many other stages to follow. But for me it was a tremendously important first step. 

#2 To forgive myself
Another important step for me was to forgive myself.  I know this sounds strange to some people, but for a long time I blamed myself for everything that went wrong in our relationship.  I had all these thoughts that if I only could have done this or that differently; then it would not have come to this. 

I had to let go of the idea that I had some kind of super power to control the outcome of our relationship.  That I had the ability to change things if only I had been better equipped, more knowledgeable, been a better person, known the right words to say etc.  I had to let go of the thought that it was my insufficiency that caused the problem.  I had to forgive myself for not being perfect, for not doing everything I ought to have done simply because I did not know. 

For me it was accepting that my imperfection is what makes me human and I had to forgive myself for hating myself so deeply for not being perfect.  When I was able to forgive myself for this, when I was able to stop beating up on myself, I was able to become more compassionate towards myself, and in learning to be compassionate to an imperfect me, I learned it is possible to be compassionate towards others who are also imperfect.  And to accept that their hurtful actions toward me are part of their imperfections being acted out.

#3 Sometimes all I can do is be willing to forgive
I had to learn that there is a difference between being willing to forgive and forgiveness.  (Once again two different words would make it so much easier to come to terms with the concepts)

Simple forgiveness in my opinion means that I will never expect to interact with the offender again.  It is a done act, the relationship is forever over, and I close the book and never look back.  It is done and I move forward in my life never giving the offending party another thought.

Willingness to forgive is different.  It implies that there is reconciliation hoped for, making it something that I imagine as possible.  In such a situation I have to determine what my parameters are to protect me from being hurt again.  I have to create boundaries for self-protection.  For me this means I need the other person to recognize they have done me wrong, I need for them to be willing to work on atonement and I need for them to realize that reconciliation itself is a process, a work toward rebuilding a relationship and possibly trust.

A willingness to forgive allows me to put the past behind me, to get on with my life, to put the "work" of the relationship on hold until such time as the other person makes a move toward fixing the past by making an apology for their part in not handling a difficult situation in a better manner.

These three thoughts are the ones that I find I wrestle with the most.  There were others but they seemed to fade in importance as I came to terms with these ideas that really helped me to shift my thought process.

I do have to be honest though, there still are days when I feel anger over what was done to me, sometimes even rage over how thoughtlessly the situation was handled and how easy they find it to justify their actions. I find I am distraught over how easy they find it to be critical, judgmental and uncompromisingly unforgiving. 

On those days I sometimes feel that I have not made as much progress in my journey toward forgiveness as I would like, for I am projected back into the past by those thoughts.

I remind myself then, that I am only human, and then I once again I return to working on my self-compassion and through that I am able to come back to feeling compassion for the ones who also don't know any better how to handle difficult situations involving communication and sharing of feelings. 

They are flawed and it is from their place of being flawed that they inflict hurt upon others.  And I happen to be just one of those whom they have hurt because of their "flawedness" and their inability let go of their grudge, to find it in their hearts to forgive.  And then I find I have talked my way back to being "willing to forgive".

Does any of this help you a little to understand your own journey toward forgiveness?
I would love to know what you have learned on your own healing journey toward forgiveness.

Renate Dundys Marrello

2016 – 09 – 07 

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