Some people have commented to me that I am not free unless I forgive; unless I feel and understand my parents' pain; that I will never be free from the tormentors of my childhood if I run away from them because I am an extension of my parents--and not of a different species than they. One of these comments inspired me to write the following response:
I am neither an extension of my parents nor of their lives. I have my own life. I do feel that I am very different. They never looked for freedom, truth, compassion, and love. They were stuck in self-pity and fear. They never dared to question how they lived and acted, and never dared to change. They insisted that their self-destructive and destructive ways were the right way to live. They made the mistake of living their lives as extensions of their parents, clinging to many of the wrong, insane, inhuman, merciless and dangerous beliefs about life.
I was trained to follow and obey what my parents and other "important" authorities lived and believed, and to fulfill, without contradiction, their expectations, demands, and rules--which is how my parents functioned. I AM a different species than that because I don't live in this way anymore. I know that I have inspired others with my life to find and follow their own values, dreams, needs and their truth--above all my children.
I have created who I am through incredibly hard work, endurance, courage, and the love and support of people who understand and support my quest and passionate calling. It is part of who I am that I love to understand them.
I am amazed when I am described as "running from my tormentors." If adults run from tormentors, if they are attacked in the street, stalked, tortured, or threatened--isn't that a wiser thing to do than to understand their tormentors? Why am I expected to feel with the tormentors of my childhood? Who benefits from that? For whose "own good" should that be done? Whose demand is that?
What I have accomplished is to leave hurtful relationships behind and to seek out supportive and loving relationships. I don't call this "running." I call this defining my boundaries and acting from strength and self-love. I see my life as adventuresome and brave, with the deep quest to be true to myself.
Can any human being ever feel the pain of someone else? Even the most wonderful therapist with true, genuine compassion cannot feel what his/her client feels. You can take notice, respect, listen to, acknowledge the pain of others, feel compassion but you have your own feelings about it. The important thing to me is not to feel the pain of others but to understand and take responsibility for our own feelings and pain.
As a child, I could feel my parents' pain because I completely, symbiotically identified with them and their pain, and wanted to ease it. I was what is called "enmeshed" with them and their emotions. But I had no idea about my own pain. Today, I can feel my pain and am focused on my life and how to change and live it--not on understanding and saving my parents anymore.
When I read that I should feel my parents' pain to move on from my childhood fears I wondered where this law is written down and who made it. This comment also implies that I cannot have moved on because I have not fulfilled someone else's specific demands for the proper way to achieve freedom. Such comments serve the mechanism that extinguished my truth and reality in childhood--they attempt to invalidate my true, own, personal experiences and perspective.
We must understand our OWN pain and suffering to be able to do something about it. Identifying with my parents' pain did not change their lives or ease their self-destructive ways, but chained me hopelessly to them and their beliefs. There was no room for my pain. My pain was not allowed to exist, to be heard, understood, valued, comforted and soothed. It was like a conspiracy to cement and perpetuate useless suffering. While my parents were stuck in their self pity, nothing was done or changed to hear me and my pain--so that I would not be in pain or fear anymore.
My individuation and liberation as a human being began when I took my own pain, my own feelings, my own thoughts, and my own needs seriously, which removed me more and more from the desire to feel the pain of people who abused or hurt me, or who do or try to do that in the present. I even think that is dangerous because it blurs important boundaries.
When I read Jonathan Pincus' book "Base Instincts" and Dorothy Lewis' "Guilty by Reason of Insanity" about the childhood of murderers*, I learned more about why people hurt, even kill others, and commit crimes. That was shocking, most informative, painful, fascinating, and enlightening. The murderers in these books all loved, understood and forgave the indescribable, monstrous, deeply repulsive, criminal abuses of their perverse parents--and went out to kill innocent people.
Understanding how people become who they are and why they commit crimes is one thing--and dealing with personal relationships a completely different thing. And a crime remains a crime, is judged and has the consequence of punishment.
But if I would live in close contact with a criminal and tried to understand him/her, I would endanger my life. It would not be a wise thing to do. To understand criminal actions on a theoretical, analytical level is a very different matter than dealing with personal relationships, especially with our parents, who had and can have such tremendous power over us. Very often, people who "understand" their parents end up submitting to and "understanding" abusive partners without being able to realize the reality of their relationship and to free themselves. The closer we are to someone, and the deeper the relationship, the more there has to be a mutual understanding and mutual respect for what each part of that relationship needs to feel safe, protected, respected, cared for and loved.
Therapy has been for me about becoming empowered to remove myself from unnecessary pain and painful situations, and to be able to do--what I could not do as a child--for the rest of my life. As long as I understood my parents' pain, while I did not acknowledge and validate my own emotions, I was terribly confused, suffering, and stuck in powerlessness.
As a child, I learned and had to endure that my pain was completely unimportant, a nuisance, a problem--but nothing that could be changed and helped, eased and comforted. The more I could and can do that--the freer, happier and more unburdened my life has become, and the less I try to understand those who once hurt or are hurting me. I just say, "no, don't do that to me." Today, I do not invest any energy anymore into understanding WHY they are doing what they are/were doing. When I did that, I was not able to tell people: "I don't like what you do. It hurts me. Stop it." As long as I wanted to understand my tormentors, I was not able to protect myself and to take care of my needs.
It is vitally and life-savingly important that we recognize, understand and ease our own pain--and realize that we MUST change the dangerous imprint, which merciless, unkind, cruel and unloving ways forced upon us and into our lives so that we can leave these self-destructive and destructive ways behind. We were forced to understand and accept that we were not worth to be treated with compassion and respect for ourselves and with regard for our needs and well-being. I had to change that in order to be able to live true to myself, with integrity and peace, with humanity, with joy, harmony and in truth--and I am proud that I did.
© Barbara Rogers, June 2005
*Jonathan Pincus:"Base Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill?" Read the interesting article about it on Alice Miller's website: "Frenzy" - Childhood, Hatred and the Compulsion to Kill."
Dorothy Lewis: "Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers"