INCEST AND FORGIVENESS
Incest occurred regularly in my home-of-origin. My grandmother and my mother, separately and together, sexually abused me at a very early age. When I was still young, my grandmother had a stroke. She was moved to Texas to live with my aunt and eventually died. My mother continued the abuse, the incest, for years. My siblings were also part of the incest cycle. Incest and forgiveness is an oxymoron-of-sorts in many human beings’ minds.
Incest. It seems to be a dirty word that people do not want to acknowledge let alone face. There are many articles and websites on the subject if you look for information on the topic of incest. An insightful one is written in The Atlantic. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/america-has-an-incest-problem/272459/)
Incest. Mother upon daughter and grandmother upon granddaughter incest are even harder for people to grasp. Many doubt a mother could sexually abuse or torture her child. The truth is that this type of abuse happens more than we know.
It is Mother’s Day as I write this post. Incest and forgiveness …. How does a person forgive a mother who emotionally and sexually abused him or her? How does a survivor forgive a grandmother who did the same as the mother? How does an individual forgive the mother and the grandmother who were partners in the abuse? What if the great-aunt was the person who provided the little girl to men to abuse her in an upstairs bedroom time after time? The great aunt became one of the agents for human trafficking. What a challenge … a deep, intense, personal challenge.
Forgiveness comes when it comes. I could not force it. First, I intellectually wanted to forgive all the persons who abused, raped or tortured me. Forgiveness though is more than an intellectual exercise. True forgiveness must come from the heart. That may take time.
Fortunately, I was able to come to a point of true forgiveness of my mother for the deeds she committed against me. I used to think it was easier to forgive her because she was dead. Now I realize that is not the only reason. After I left my mother’s home and entered into the world of abuse and torture perpetrated by my now ex-husband, Tom M., I still had a relationship with my mother. As the years went by and active incest (mother upon daughter) was not part of the picture, I slowly began to see my mother as an individual with a background of serious problems. Although I was not facing my past of abuse yet, I was able to see my mother through adult eyes.
Once I faced my past, I began to understand generational abuse from an intellectual level. Gradually, I began the process of forgiving my mother for the incest, the human trafficking, the emotional abuse, and more. Because my grandmother most likely abused my mother also, I could have the perspective of my mother as a victim as well as a perpetrator. My grandmother, my mother’s mom, was a very angry, mean woman. She terrified my siblings as well as me. Even the children in the neighborhood were afraid of this old woman who stood in the window and told kids to get off the grass. She suffered from agoraphobia and did not leave the house often.
Knowing my mother was most likely a victim of incest allowed me to feel empathy for her. Eventually forgiveness flowed from my heart and not only my head.
My grandmother though is another story. The inner child, the little girl, within me still had lingering fears connected to this lady – my grandmother. I have been mulling this situation of incest and forgiveness regarding my grandmother for years. It is only now that my heart is beginning to forgive my grandmother. Intellectually, I figure her mother or father abused her. The cycle of generational abuse probably did not start with my grandmother.
Elena Ferrante has written a series of books in Italian that have been translated to English. The author writes about the long-term friendship of two females in Naples, Italy. The girls were born in the 1940’s. I am now reading book number four which is the last book in the series. I grew up in Chicago in a neighborhood that consisted mostly of people with Italian and Irish ancestry. Many of them were immigrants or first generation Americans. This childhood background of mine made it easy for me to relate to Ferrante’s novels. Ferrante’s portrays the cycle of violence, in general, and the roles of women during the time period of these two friends’ lives in her books. These books resonate with me. I recognize that the generational violence – mostly physical violence (slaps, beatings) – was acceptable in society then. Parents hit their children. Husbands freely hit their wives and kids. Fortunately, physical violence between family members is now condemned in many parts of the world. Awareness and education brought positive change. Women’s roles in society changed. Thinking of others, including family members, as humans who deserve to be treated with dignity and care versus physical violence became more commonplace.
(If you are interested in reading Elena Ferrante’s series, see: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13586707-my-brilliant-friend)
Abuse – generational sexual abuse – especially incest between a woman toward her child is still a taboo subject in too many circles of society. Until we can be honest and face the reality of this situation, change will be more difficult.
My grandmother was most likely a victim herself. I have very little information of her life. I do not excuse her behavior. I do forgive her. Tears form in my eyes as I write this. My heart forgives her as well as my head. Oh, I know forgiving her will heal me further. Yet, as I wrote previously, you cannot command yourself to forgive anyone. It is a complex and a simple process. After much inner work over time, there is a day that you realize you have forgiven an abuser and you are able to let go. This forgiveness allows you to breathe easier and then to be more present in your life today, now, at this present moment!
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean contact with the abuser. Boundaries are needed. For many of us, no contact is the best way to protect ourselves from future abuse (whether physical, sexual, emotional or mind control type abuse). Informing the abuser or perpetrator of our forgiveness is also not needed in order for healing to occur.
As I reflect on this Mother’s Day, my heart is filled with gratitude. Forgiveness is a gift – possibly a spiritual gift. Gifts many times arrive unexpectedly.
I did not expect to write on this topic of incest and forgiveness today.
As a life coach and survivor of incest, I wonder what your thoughts are on the subject of incest and forgiveness.
As a life coach and survivor of abuse, I wonder if forgiveness of a rapist or an abuser is on your radar yet.
Where are you on your path? Do you desire or need a person to journey with you? Does anger and resentment impede your ability to move forward in your daily life or in reaching your goals?
There are options. If you want to reach out, feel free contact me.
As always, take gentle care of yourself today!!