Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Anger and Forgiveness

Anger is a normal, healthy, response to abuse, hurt, and injustice --
and it’s a vital part of the healing journey.

We need to feel and experience our anger in order to set
boundaries and protect ourselves, and in order to acknowledge
that we were hurt and to allow space for healing.  
For some people this process can take months or years.
Some people wish they can skip the process of embracing anger, and attempt to skip it.
But in reality anger can not be skipped over. We need to go through
it in order to come to the next stage, which is acceptance, followed by forgiveness.

I am not talking about forgiving our abusers.
I’m talking about forgiveness toward oneself.
Learning to forgive ourselves is a key stage in the process of healing.

Certainly it’s possible that in some cases forgiveness of others
is a natural progression of self forgiveness and self compassion.
But forgiveness of an abuser when it happens, is for us
not for the person we are forgiving.
Forgiveness releases their power over us and sets us free mentally.
Forgiveness does NOT mean absolving ourselves or anyone else
of accountability or responsibility for their actions. Quite the opposite.
When we truly love someone, we hold them accountable.

True forgiveness of ourselves takes humility, courage, and love.
 It means admitting that we are imperfect, limited human beings
and that we make mistakes.  It means recognizing, accepting
and validating our negative feelings, and loving and accepting
ourselves anyway,with all of our humanity, limitations, and struggles.
It means allowing ourselves to be human.

We cannot grow, change, or heal if we judge ourselves as bad
or shameful people, or allow others to judge us this way.
The truth is that anyone who judges victims of abuse as a bad
or shameful, is telling you something powerful about themselves,
NOT about the victim. They are letting you know that they have
not forgiven themselves completely. They do not love and accept
themselves unconditionally. They are suffering and confused.
Perhaps they too have been a vicitm or a perpertrator
and Instead of introspection and taking personal responsibility, they apply
blame and shame to others. This defensive response perpetuates
emotional abuse and enabling.

Forgiveness means letting go of black and white certainties.  
It means allowing God, or your Higher Power to be in charge
and admitting that although we can know our own intent, we really can
not know where anyone elses intent lies, unless they share it with us.  

When we are ready to let go of anger, there are ways to do it. We can
begin to let go of anger and resentment toward others by having faith
that God has a plan and that justice will eventually prevail, even if we
can’t see it happening just yet. We can let go of anger by focusing on
self acceptance, love and compassion.  We can let go of anger by
acknowledging how we are confronting the most difficult moments in our lives,
and instead of allowing them to destroy us we used them to transform us heroically.

I have been able to forgive my father and grandfather for raping
and molesting me. I still hold them responsible, but I know that their evil actions
had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with them and
their own limitations and choices.  Their actions were likely the result of
abuse they suffered and never questioned, and of denial,
shame, and ignorance. I don’t think they wanted to cause the deep long term
damage that they did to me. I don’t think they intended to destroy my family.
I know they will have to face what they have done, and take full responsibility
at some point, whether in this world or the next. Forgiveness means that I don’t
walk around carrying anger or resentment toward them.

I have been able to forgive my mother for ignoring and enabling the abuse.
I realize that her choices which hurt me so badly were her own limitations,
her own need to survive, and had nothing to do with me.  I believe that she
did the best she could at the time, and that she still is.

I have been able to forgive my siblings and relatives for cutting me off.
I cannot judge each of their abilities, and responsibility toward me. I choose to
believe that each one is doing what they believe is the right thing for them at this time.
I have no idea what they have been told about me, and what they believe.
I choose not to judge. I do not need them to be any different.
I choose to stay connected in my heart.

I noticed some time ago, and with some amazement, that I have even been
able to forgive my family's rabbi, who I was most enraged with, and most
hurt by, who advised my family to cut me off if I don’t keep the abuse a secret.
 I did not need or expect myself to forgive what he did. That was not in the equation.
What he did was horrific. He knew that my family would take his advice as the word of God. Accountability is between him and God as I have let go of needing him to be
or do anything different. I do not harbor resentment toward him. I accept the reality,
and believe that God allowed this to happen for a good reason.

I have been able to forgive God as I understand Him. I trust that God allowed
all of the above people to do what they did to me only because in his infinite
wisdom He knew that in the long term the outcome
would be positive. God knew that I would come away from the agony
and suffering a stronger, wiser, more compassionate and loving human being.
 And that I would use my experience as a gift to help others who are still struggling.
He was right.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Current Events and Personal Power

 For those of us who have been victims of sexual assault and abuse, reading the news and current events can be downright triggering. It is important to notice what happens inside of us when we hear about yet another untrustworthy man stepping into a powerful position that affects our lives. It can throw us right back in time to relive our own agonizing traumas.  

We all need strategies to keep from feeling revictimized and retraumatized. For me, my daily morning walk/jog, is a time for meditation and prayer.  It keeps me grounded and connected to my inner wisdom and sense of self.

This morning, for example, I contemplated the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I used this prayer as a tool to help me grapple with the current events. What do I need to accept here? What can I change, and what can I not?  Where does my personal power lie? 

Then the adapted Serenity Prayer came to me.
 God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I can not change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that it is me. 

I reminded myself that my personal power lies inside, beginning with my thoughts.  My thoughts hold incredible power to create my reality, the way I experience life, and indeed what happens in my life. 

I thought of my own past and how much my own thoughts impact the way I handle life.  I had every excuse to give up, to live the life of  a victim. As a survivor of child sex abuse, and the secondary trauma involved in being shunned and excommunicated by my family, I have been in some pretty dark places. I thought many times of giving up and giving in. But instead, I took my life back.  I recreated myself and my life beginning with the power of my mind -- a process that continues every day.

I learned from Byron Katie’s “The Work” how to adjust my thoughts so that I have more power in my life. Now, whenever I notice I am feeling triggered or victimized I take a look at my thoughts and always, without exception, the thoughts behind my feelings are negative.
On my walk in the midst of the events surrounding the confirmation of an accused sexual predator to the Supreme Court, I noticed the following thoughts in my mind:  "...I am powerless in the face of these politics, I can't change anything...the people in charge aren't safe, the world isn't safe...the best I can do is ignore it..." 

No wonder I was feeling awful!  But once I realized where my thinking was, I had the power to question the truth of my thoughts.

“It is really true that I am powerless?  Is it true that I can't change anything?  Is it true that the people in charge are unsafe, and the world is unsafe?” 

It certainly seems true.  It could be true, but perhaps the opposite could also be just as true. SoI tried on the opposite thoughts for size:

"I am powerful. I can't change other people (who can?)  but I can change myself beginning with my thoughts. I am in charge of me, and in this moment, I am safe! my world is safe. I choose what I allow into my mind and out of my mouth!"

These thoughts are empowering and just as true. And I felt so much better acknowledging their truth.

I may not have control over who the president is, or who serves on the Supreme Court, but I sure do have control over what I allow into my mind and my heart.  I have control over how I treat myself, in the sacred space of my internal world, and how I treat those closest to me. 

This is really important -- because we have a constant impact on the people around us. When I am miserable and triggered, it not only affects me; it also affects my husband and children. On the other hand, when I feel centered, connected, grounded, and safe it affects those closest to me, with a powerful ripple effect.  

Here lies my power. I can change the world by bringing my best self into it, by speaking my truth, and by hanging on to my own power.  

In fact, Dr. Ford’s courage in speaking her truth reminded me of my own power. It can be difficult at moments like this to set boundaries around our minds and hearts. I am proud of myself for speaking up where it mattered in my life, to try to protect children from my molesting father, just as I am proud of Dr. Ford who is standing up and telling her truth, regardless of the outcome.

It is especially hard for us to find that power when we know, as surely as I did,  that it might not make an immediate difference. We are facing the reality that Dr. Ford's testimony did not change the outcome. We have been watching her be discredited and disbelieved, shamed and threatened. We also know that she had everything to lose and nothing to gain personally by speaking up. This has been excruciating to witness.

Yet, we are also watching real power in action. Dr. Ford has demonstrated incredible courage and integrity -- and she is modeling what it looks like to speak our truth.  This is strength. This is hope. These are the women and men of true power who affect our lives, and are changing our world, every day.

In the meantime, young people are also listening and learning important lessons.  They are learning that people of courage and integrity speak up and take action, even when things look hopeless.  And they are witnessing first hand that their actions, as young teens and young adults matter, and will affect them and others far into the future.