Dear Annie: I have managed to overcome an abusive childhood, and I'd like to share with you how I did it at age 42, which, unfortunately, was 22 years after my abuser, my father, died.
My father had been very abusive but also very loving. As a child, and then as a teenager, this "dual personality" was very hard to deal with.
As an adult, I finally understood that my dad, as a young marine in World War II, had been very badly injured. This injury, apparently, turned his life around — in an unpleasant direction.
Somewhere in my studies on abusive parents, I read that if you could not meet the offender/parent face-to-face, or if they were not alive, writing a letter to them and airing all your grievances might help the recipient to understand and forgive the behavior.
I did this. In my letter, I said how much I loved him, even through all the abuse, and how I finally understood that his past had probably caused him to have an issue not understood at the time: post-traumatic stress disorder. I emphasized in the letter that I understood how he had attempted to combat his mental situation with alcohol, to an extreme.
By the time I had laid out ALL the incidents that I could vividly remember, and honestly accepted blame where I was the responsible party, I then looked at what I had written. As an adult, I saw, clearly, that even though he was to blame for the cruelty, at the same time, he was not to blame, due to the unnamed problem (PTSD). I could now understand that he could not always control his reactions to my childish behavior.
I hope I've explained this clearly. My point is this: I unloaded my heart into this letter, said all the things I had never been able to say to him while he was alive and cleansed my soul of the pain I had endured. At the same time, I forgave him for his responses, because I could now understand he was clueless as to how he could have controlled and healed himself.
I firmly believe that he did his very best with what knowledge he had at the time.
If others who deal with this dilemma were able to write a letter, as I did, it may help them to heal. The purpose of my letter was to heal myself, which it did — completely. The purpose was not to heal my dad; it was way too late for that, as it usually is.
Unfortunately, writing letters will not heal all people. His abuse toward me was never intentional, as some cases are.
My heart goes out to those who have lived through intentional abuse. For that, I have only compassion for the victims. For the perpetrators, there is no explanation, no acceptance, no forgiveness from me. Others, who are much better than me, might be able to find forgiveness.
I pray that this suggestion may help others, as it did me. I am now 73 years old and have not felt any further problems from my past. Thank you very much for your column, your love and understanding, and your help to others. — Found a Way to Heal
Dear Found a Way to Heal: Congratulations on taking the initiative to discover a way to heal your childhood trauma. Your letter touches on a very important realization; namely, that when people know better, they do better. Sadly, because of your father's PTSD, he might not have known what he was doing, and he didn't have the tools to cope with his own trauma. The fact that you were able to forgive him and heal yourself is outstanding. What a gift your letter is for others in similar situations.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]