Reconciliation: A Caution Based on What I’ve Learned

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You begin to heal when you say, “No more.”  It took me a long time to recognize that – to feel the efficacy within “No More.”  It happened gradually  — when I realized the balance of power had naturally shifted because I had grown up. Eventually, I shut the door and never went back.

For me, no contact was the answer, and I maintain I had no choice, but many abuse survivors don’t walk away – for whatever reason, they hold on to dysfunction, often enduring a lifetime of abuse.

The attempt at reconciliation with Ed was a mistake on my part – people do not change.  I still believe people can change, but it takes a level of focus and commitment few possess.  It’s hard enough to make subtle changes – to lose weight, or resolve to save more money; changing the whole of who we are is damn near impossible.  And when dealing with an abuser, the need is a change in everything they are.

So I’ll amend that; I believe we can change aspects of who we are, but we cannot change our essence or our core.  A man who can beat his child – brutally and without mercy, will always be that man …

Real change begins with deep personal reflection, devoid of any and all denial, and progresses to the assumption of full responsibility for what you did and for what it caused. Finally, it entails making amends – not just with yourself, but with everyone you have hurt.  This last part can take the remainder of an abuser’s lifetime …

and those imbued with the capacity to abuse aren’t the kind who invest themselves in taking care of the wounds of others – they remain readily able to inflict pain, but not to soothe it.

Reconciliation with your abuser is a risky proposition, and it almost always fails.  In the trial, we are reminded of the pain – it can be a living hell.

I went to dinner with my father, sat beside him at a ballgame or theatrical production; spoke of trivial things, and not so trivial things, but it never felt right – or OK.  I was always his child in those moments – something I did not want to be, something I never wanted to be, something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy; he was, and ever will be, the father who beat and tortured me, the man I so feared and despised.

I learned a great deal in our correspondence, the written word so revealing of who we are inside.  He was candid, very matter-of-fact in his narcissism and grandiose belief in who he is today – so delusional in his own certainty in who he is:

Excerpt – 10/25/2014

“I have been thinking that one of my favorite Plays , and recent movie, Les Mis, has much meaning to my life with Janet. (Janet, my sister with developmental delays) I’m not good at character names, but I ‘m sure you and Rachael (my daughter) can follow along.. I’m thinking Janet and myself as the characters the ex prisoner and the woman’s small child. If I hadn’t stepped up to take care of Janet she would have remained in the State Hospital system and would have died simply a lost sole and her beauty and love cloistered from the world.”

Very determined to make me believe he was different, he played upon my compassion and empathy – he tried desperately to manipulate my feelings:

October 12, 2014

“Tim,

I came back early from my retreat at the Camaldise Monastery at Big Sur, I usually go off for a retreat at least once a year and alternate between Big Sur and the Monastery of the Redwoods, west of Garberville.

I usually go to get away for a few days where I can just be alone – fitting for the Introvert I am. The first day is mostly meditating and falling asleep as I meditate and simply catching up on needed rest. So why is this important?

During one of these sleeping meditations I woke up and realized I was crying. At 1st, I thought I was happy because of the wonderful “family” e-mail I had received before I left for the monastery. It took only a few seconds to realize that was not it at all, I was extremely sad. It was because into the middle of the ideal family e-mail spanning 20-30 years, there was a period of horrific pain, anger and mental distress for which I was responsible, and the pain hurt

.

I got up, closed the door to my room and sat with that pain, crying some more, then sat there and thought how I was going to say this to you. I came home a day early, thinking the long drive would help me decide how to tell you and arrived late last night. I was too emotionally drained and tired to put this down in words last night so I went to bed and am writing it now. This is how it came out.”

 

When considering reconciliation with an abusive parent, there is a ten-point check list to determine your own readiness, but perhaps the single most important consideration is this:

  • Have we both experienced significant emotional growth and change since we estranged? Or, are we the same as we were at the time of our estrangement?

 

I will say that it is crucial that you have grown and healed, but it is far more important that your parent has grown – and this growth MUST include the ability to accept without comprise all of what they did, all of what it caused – and they must be willing to make it right, whatever that entails FOR YOU! And all of this must be sustained throughout the course of any relationship that follows.  

Be careful if it seems too easy – never have the words “if it seems too good to be true it probably is,” been more true.

Be alert and ready to recognize false remorse, manipulation and gaslighting.

And don’t feel like you have to forgive until you are ready – and if that time never comes, understand that that is OK.

Just as it took time and contemplation to understand exactly how damaging my abusive childhood was, it will take time to fully process the impact of my failed attempt at reconciliation with my father:

It’s painful to realize your parent is a monster …

but it’s even more devastating to recognize that in the years of estrangement, all they have done is sharpen their claws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turn The Page

Ed has not changed.  Ed – has – not – changed.  Ed. Has. Not. Changed.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve pondered our email conversations spanning more than eight months, and I’ve considered our face to face conversations as well …

and it always, without fail, comes back to Ed.

He knows what he did – and there isn’t a shred of denial, but it is always about what he feels, and how he has suffered.  It’s really strange; he lacks the ability to connect on an emotional level with me at all.  He can discuss his feelings, even until eternity, but when it comes to my feelings, “there’s nothing I can do about that now,” is his response.

One of the things I did with my therapist several years ago was create a psychological profile of each of my parents based on their behavior when I was growing up.  These profiles aren’t meant to be diagnostic of abusive parents, but intended to help abuse survivors understand they weren’t bad children; they had bad and/or ill parents.

A lack of ability to connect emotionally with one’s own child is indicative of some serious deficits and character flaws. Combine that with cruelty, physical abuse and neglect, and you have the profile of an abuser.

Ed has a grandiose and false view of himself which is mind-boggling and deeply troubling.  He sees himself as a literary hero, caring for his sick child against all odds.   It isn’t about the truth – how he failed his children, it’s about his attachment – unhealthy attachment, for my poor sick sister who couldn’t tell Ed to go to hell as Elizabeth and I did.

He hides in today, pathetically shielded by people he has managed to manipulate, and fool.  People who do not understand that anything positive they get from Ed is only pretend; he is incapable of anything real or meaningful.

And so I am done.  I am wiser than  I was when I walked away thirty plus years ago, and wisdom is its own reward, but I’m not content with the final understanding that I was right:  people do not change.

Many of my questions were answered, the rest will likely go unaddressed forever …

every therapist and psychiatrist I have seen tells me that in addition to the physical and emotional abuse I suffered as a child, I was very likely sexually abused, too; I have no recollection of this, but I don’t doubt it either, not growing up in the house I grew up in.  My sister has said she remembers being sexually abused by our father, but she will not delve into it with me, or anyone …

so when my therapist again cautioned me to trust my instincts about Ed, and followed it up with the question: “If your children were little, would you leave them alone with Ed today?” …

I concluded that I don’t want him in my life, or the lives of my wife and children.

Final words to Ed:

I walked away from you thirty years ago in order to survive – I had NO choice, stop believing I did.  This is part of accepting responsibility for what you did.

You are a coward for not reaching out to Elizabeth; she has the right to spit in your face for what you’ve done to her.  I never told you not to contact Elizabeth – that was not my choice to make; I told you to be prepared for her wrath if you do. You are so afraid of rejection – rightful rejection on her part, that you won’t own what you did to her – and that is despicable.

You made your abusive parents my business the moment you used having been an abused child yourself as your excuse for beating and abusing me.

And, you are absolutely correct when you state that what I say about you is true.

Time to close the chapter, Reconciliation; it has come to an end.