Forgiving an abusive parent

It's interesting. A topic recently on my online support group has been about dealing with family members who pressure you to "forgive" your personality disordered parent. I mean, in relationships that are healthier, the other person works on improving him/herself, and you move on, together. This type of a more reasonable dysfunction is common in families.  That's what a lot of people think about when they try to persuade me and the other kids of a personality disordered parent to "forgive" our parents.

In some ways, these relatives want to pretend that the abusive parent is mentally healthier than he or she really is. "Forgiving" is easier for everyone, because then we can all get back to our regularly programming of denial.

It happened all the time within my family while growing up. It's a form of brainwashing. External brainwashing with pressure from my mom to "keep the peace," and internal brainwashing as form of self-protection. My dad is good at gaslighting, at rewriting events to match his disordered perception, and my mom is good at paying attention to her vows of "obeying" her husband, that she actively engages in the brainwashing by pretending things never happened.

Without anyone to validate my memories, I started doubting myself. I found the "forgetting" became more complete as time went on, like in the Giver. In the immediate aftermath of my dad's wrath, my mom would say, "It's just the way he is." She validated it. Then as time went on, she thought of it as not as bad as it actually was. I started doubting the severity. As time went on further, eventually the traumatic event was forgotten. It's like living in the Twilight Zone. Or the world a la 1984 by George Orwell, when suddenly the enemy is the ally and the ally is the enemy, and people promptly and conveniently began to forget.

This is why so many of my memories are constantly "on the tip of my tongue." They're there. I can feel them. I've seen them before, but it's like a veil. It hides it, but it doesn't do anything to keep the emotions from seeping through, ethereally. It doesn't stop the cold pain of fear. And sometimes, when I'm least expecting it, that veil lifts and the emotions and memories hits me full on. It doesn't happen as often as it used to, but it still happens.

Some people simply can't comprehend dysfunction beyond a certain point. It's easier to understand physical abuse, and decry it. It's somewhat easy to understand verbal abuse, given all the campaigns against bullying.

But the psychological abuse...the brainwashing, the eggshells, the fear, the tactical's all tactics used by the Other, by enemies, by tyrants and dictators, it's so easy to forget that psychological abuse exists in our neighborhoods. It's easy to block it out of our minds.

That's why I don't blame my relatives or mutual acquaintances who have tried to convince me that it is all "normal" parent-kid stuff, convince me to forgive my father, or  convince me that it really is all my fault that my father disowned me. They didn't understand then, and I'm not sure they understand even now. I just politely turned down their urgings, attempting to explain why it's not the "normal" sort of dysfunction. I don't think they truly understood.

Another person on the support group pointed out that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I could forgive my father for abuses, but that doesn't mean I should reconcile with him, and expose myself to further abuse. That is the difference that these relatives aren't aware of in their urgings.

That said, I don't think I'm at the point of forgiveness, yet. I'm not ready to forgive my father. I'm not sure I can forgive my mother for her role in abetting my father's abuses and gaslighting. I'm not sure I can forgive myself for my own role in the dysfunction, for my little siblings' sake. I wish I had a backbone sooner, that I went to college sooner, that I figured out that most families aren't like mine, sooner. I wish, I wish.

I need to head back to counseling again very soon, to work through more of this. I just needed to write it down while I was thinking about it, in order to keep it from occupying more than its fair share of my mind, in order to spare the rest of it for homework, so I can get ahead on homework again, so I can find more time to train once again for the marathon this October.

Thank you for listening.


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  • What a brave and wonderful blog. You are healing and gaining insight. Much much much love and support and respect to you for being able to seek out support, face issues and share with people who can benefit from your experience and wisdom. xo

  • In reply to Nicole Knepper:

    Thanks so much Nikki <3

  • I'm having serious flashbacks here. You know that it was my mom with the "problem." My forgiveness has come in layers, like an onion being peeled, but I have not totally forgiven her completely even though she died 15 yrs. ago.

    Take heart in the fact that despite the dysfunction you have become a strong and wonderful woman who is a major contribution to this crazy world of ours. ;-)

  • In reply to siblingless:

    Sorry for my delay in replying! Thank you for commenting :) I agree with your description of forgiveness like an onion. It certainly is a process, and I think part of what slows me down in forgiveness are my little siblings. It's hard to forgive when they still live at home and are still subject to his rages.

    And thanks for the kind words :) I certainly couldn't have gotten to this point without the help and the patience from my husband, his family, a few relatives, and my friends.

  • I do not believe in forgiveness ( we're talking about the big stuff here)- my mother was emotionally abusive toward -me- went into therapy- got all that off my chest.- I finally told the women who said she was my mother- I did'nt have forgiveness to give- she had to find it for ft for herself.= I believed it then and I believe it today

  • In reply to city1360:

    Recommend to just radically accept that fact and be ok with it. Many are just "done" with it and do what they need to do to cope. There's no right or wrong way to cope, really. We all do the best we can given our circumstances in life.

  • In reply to city1360:

    Hugs to you, city1360. I agree with EveryCrayon--you are doing what is absolutely right for yourself. And I admire you for that.

  • Thank you Holly for sharing. I have a similar case with my mother. I was forced out of the home at 14, leaving behind a younger brother and sister. I returned a few years later, with a baby, and tried my best to have a traditional relationship with her. Funny how our memories hide from us. It wasn't until I saw the abuse (gaslighting, rewriting or history, and bad mouthing) of one of my sons that I finially got a flood of the childhood memories back, and the backbone to leave for good. Of course I am the bad one, and my oldest adult son-who doesn't see what is going on-has disowned me, as has the rest of my family. It takes great courage to post this blog, and I hope you know that you are helping others to know that they are not alone.

  • In reply to Stacey67:

    Stacey, how heartbreaking. I am so glad you are strong amidst the pain. hugs to you. I agree--it is amazing what our memories hide from us. One example I most remember is that, not long after my father emailed me "Goodbye daughter, it was nice knowing you for 21 years," my brain started thinking, "oh, it really wasn't that bad after all." But when he tried to "let bygones be bygones" to start a new and changed relationship, I and my fiance went out to dinner with them on their invitation. It brought all the memories back, of him pretending to be perfect but you never knew when he'd snap. And then after the dinner, the badmouthing and gaslighting started up again, and that's when I decided I had enough abuse, and like you, left for good. It's so hard, but we do have to take care of our own mental health and wellbeing.

    Thanks for commenting <3

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