Should I Forgive My Dying Mother?
I grew up in a very sick family home. Both my mother and father were very emotionally and physically abusive. I don’t want to get into the details about what they did but it was pretty bad and I have the scars and broken bone pains still to remind me of what they did.
I left home at 17 and I’ve never been back, even though they only live a couple of hours away. I am 25 now. I have maintained civil relationships with my extended family and will get together with my aunts sometimes for meals.
They know that things were really bad for me but it’s like that with time they are all sort of forgetting the bad and trying to push for reconciliation. My mother has cancer now and I guess she has been moaning about missing me and they are all trying to make her dying wishes come true. She told me so many times that she wished I had never been born as she beat me that it is hard for me to get my head around her wanting to resume a relationship with me now. I have no interest in doing so and I would be happy if I never had to think about these people again for the rest of my life because every time I get sucked into thinking or talking about them I just get so consumed with rage and shame and a bunch of black and red feelings that are hard to explain…
But now that everyone is trying to get me to go back home to see them again why am I all of a sudden the bad person here when I won’t go? Why is that every time someone asks me to forgive my parents for the past and move forward I almost lose my mind with anger and frustration? Why do I have to start crying and pull out humiliating examples from the past before they’ll back off and accept that I am serious about not wanting to go back home?
They made my life hell for 17 years and I won’t let them do it anymore. Why can’t people accept this? Am I really being SELFISH for never wanting to see them again?
Dr. Ari Hahn Says ...
Before I answer all of your questions, let me answer the most important one.If you do not feel absolutely ready and confidant to resume a relationship with your mother, don't do it. And if you feel that way, you should get in touch with you mother only under the guidance of a therapist that has gone through the process many times before. If you still get "consumed with rage and shame" then even if your mother had turned around completely (which is unlikely) the contact would certainly backfire.
Your relatives are probably meaning for the best, but they cannot possibly understand what you have gone through. Don't expect them to understand. I am sure that you would like to "move forward" but, for you, it is a long hard process that is beyond them. Time does not heal all wounds. That's a lot of bunk. And the wounds that you describe cannot ever be completely healed.Successful therapy will allow you to live without anger, frustration, crying,and humiliation. Recovery from PTSD means that there is no longer any sharp pain. It means that you would be able to talk about your terrible experiences without having to re-experience them. Relating the stories would incur a dull pain that you would consider worthwhile in certain circumstances. If you embark on the journey of recovery now, and get a good therapist, and work on it in a serious manner, it would take at least three years to get to that point. And,in truth, at age 25, you are at the age when you are fully an adult and it is a good time to start.
If you need an answer for your relatives, do not tell them all the ugly stories. That upsets you too much and (because they cannot understand) make you look weak in their eyes. When in reality you are much stronger than anybody who has not lived through the hell you lived through. I would suggest that you tell them that you are not ready to talk to her because of the anger and rage that you still have. Tell them that you are working on it, but until you are ready,such a meeting would be harmful for everybody involved. So it is just not worth it. Tell them to think of it this way. Let's say you meet you mom in order to give her the satisfaction that she dies with a good relationship with her. Then it goes terribly sour and you leave her feeling more bitter than before. That would be more disrespectful than refusing to meet her.
By now you understand that it is not selfish to refuse to see her now. Even if you do not see her at all. I strongly believe that forgiveness is the highest level of recovery, but it is not for everybody. And for the few who can achieve it, it requires work and caution.