This was originally posted on March 5, 2012

What happened to you really was bad. This should not happen to any child. It should not have happened to you.

In our culture there is often a rush to forgiveness that precedes acknowledging the harm that has been done. When I was a child and my father yelled at me or withheld love, I was told by mother, “He really does love you. He just does not know how to show it.” She sometimes added, “Even though he will never say he is sorry, you should forgive your father, because he did not really mean what he said.”

As a child I “learned my lesson well.” I came to the conclusion that women must “read between the lines” of the behavior and words of men, because men cannot and do not express their true feelings. This “lesson” did not serve me well in my life. Quite the opposite. When I loved a man and he did not treat me well, I remembered my mother’s words. “He does love me,” I told myself, “he just doesn’t know how to show it.” My mother passed on a very good recipe for accepting abuse.

“Hold on,” I can hear you thinking, “Your mother was only trying to protect you.” Of course she was, but her words had exactly the opposite effect. Instead of helping me to deal with life, my mother’s words confused me. My mother taught me that where men are concerned the word “love” does not have its ordinary meaning, the one I learned from her love for me. Where men are concerned “love” is complicated and mysterious: what does not look or feel like love really is love. Sorry Mom, but that was bullshit! I know you wanted me to find love and happiness and were often puzzled when I didn’t. You wondered if it was anything you did. Despite your best intentions, it was something you did.

Psychoanalyst Alice Miller was in her sixties when she finally recognized the truth that set her free. In Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, she writes of “the liberating experience of facing painful truth.” She states that not only parents but also therapists and religious leaders are all too often afraid of facing painful truth. What is the truth they are afraid of facing? In my family it was simply this: “No father should treat his children like that. Your father should not treat you like that.” If I had heard these words, Miller explains, it would have been painful. But it would have been the truth. It would have been difficult for me to accept that at times my father really was abusive and cruel. It might have been even more painful for my mother to acknowledge that her husband really was abusive and cruel to her children. But the alternative was more painful and in its own way more abusive and cruel.

Where is the abuse in being told a “white lie” about abuse? The child who is told a lie about the pain she is experiencing is being told to suppress her feelings. She is being told that her valid feelings that “this hurts” and “this should not be happening to me,” are wrong and cannot be acknowledged or expressed. In other words “feeling your own feelings” is not OK. If all or most children are raised not to feel their own feelings, it is no wonder that adults who have been raised not to feel their own feelings continue to be afraid to face painful truths. We allow ourselves and those around us to be abused and then we cover abuse up with white lies. Alice Miller asks:

“Why should I forgive, when no one is asking me to? I mean, my parents refuse to understand and to know what they did to me. … [My forgiveness] doesn’t help my parents to see the truth. But it does prevent me from experiencing my feelings, the feelings that would give me access to the truth.”

Alice Miller was in her sixties when she finally discovered that “The truth about childhood, as many of us have had to endure it, is inconceivable, scandalous, painful.” She was not talking only about sexual and physical abuse—which we now know are rampant. She was also talking about a kind of psychological abuse that is even more widespread: parents who expect their children to do as they are told and not to do what they feel like doing are abusing their children. These children are being taught to suppress their feelings in order to please their parents. Often the feelings that are being suppressed are not even anger or resentment but simple joy and excitement about life.

I was in my forties when I began to understand this. I often thought that since I was rarely hit (though often spanked) and never sexually abused, nothing “really bad” ever happened to me. I now understand that being told not to express my feelings but to suppress them so that I would not upset my father or other adults really was abuse. It is no wonder that my feelings were a mystery to me as an adult and that it took years of therapy before I began to experience and trust them.

After my mother died, she came to me in a dream that had the force of revelation. In it she acknowledged the painful truth of my childhood and my brothers’ childhoods. She asked for my forgiveness and warned me never to love a man so much that I would allow myself to deny the harm he is doing to others. In my dream I thanked my mother for finally telling me the truth, and I did forgive her. As for my father, I do not hate him, in fact I wish him well. But I do not forgive him for something he has never acknowledged he did. This is the painful truth of my life.

As a teacher and as a friend, I hear and have heard many stories of abuse. My response is to look the person telling me the story in the eye, take her hand, and to say these simple words: What happened to you really was bad. This should not happen to any child. It should not have happened to you.

BIO: Carol P. Christ (1945-2021) was an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual.

“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.”  — Carol P. Christ 

Author: Legacy of Carol P. Christ

We at FAR were fortunate to work along side Carol Christ for many years. She died from cancer in July, 2021. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. To honor her legacy and to allow as many people as possible to read her thought-provoking and important blogs, we are pleased to offer this new column to highlight her work. We will be picking out special blogs for reposting, making note of their original publication date.

9 thoughts on “Legacy of Carol P. Christ: FORGIVENESS or TRUTH: WHICH IS THE BEST REMEDY?”

  1. This post needs to be re – printed at least twice a year in my opinion… because this obsession with forgiveness gets in the way of ANY genuine healing or ironically genuine forgiveness – Abuse is more rampant now now than ever before… as the attack on women has become more severe the old lies continue…. Like Carol I grew up in a state of massive confusion having no real parents ( thank god she had one) and grandparents who loved me telling me my parents weren’t doing what they did – my way of dealing with this was to turn the abuse on myself – and that set me up for more abuse as adult and then I hated myself even more…. Such an ugly story and such a common one. Being witnessed compassionately by ONE person can shift the self hatred dynamic – in my case Nature stepped in
    along with my dreams…and with the help of both I saved myself but to this day remain vulnerable – often taking on too much responsibility for other people’s shit. Ironic that i should be reading this post today when i am being harassed by some man who won’t take NO for an answer – thank you Carol – the shit never ends

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a man, not a woman. But I can certainly relate. My bastard of a father brutalized me in the worst ways possible. Psychological as well as physical. He was trying to “make me a man”. All he did was brainwash me into being a misogynistic fucker like him. I copied his abusive behavior for years. Until I finally realized what I was doing and went to therapy. Best decision I ever made in my life. I have struggled (and still struggle) to make up for my past sins and find forgiveness. It’s a hard pill to swallow to realize that you were not a “good person”. Because that’s the lie I told myself to assuage my guilt. A lot of bad people think they are good people who have simply gone astray. And that eventually they will stop on their own. At least that’s what I told myself. I often wonder if I am or am not. I wonder every day if I am really good or just a horrible person who happens to be a great actor. It bothers me every day. And it robs me of my sleep at night.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can assure you that you are a decent human being who got caught by inter generational trauma. And I applaud your courage for entering this conversation because all too often feminists forget that men live these horrors too – so thank you – I bring up this very point frequently…just so we don’t forget -it takes time to come to terms with how we perpetuated the abuse – however this may manifest – but the good news is that we can..

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you Sara, that means a lot to me. I have tried to reach out to those I have wronged and do penance. Though I lost touch so long ago that I have only been able to apologize to one person. But I told her that I appreciate her in my life and that I was sorry for being an ass. I didn’t realize that she’s been with me through thick and thin. And called me out on my bullshit 😆 lol.


  3. I just wanted to stop in and say thank you to you both Sara and Miami for your honesty and for how you use yourselves to point out examples of how abuse functions in our dysfunctional world.

    Alice Miller was very important for me as well in coming to understand the threads of abuse I felt as a child. The book I read was “For Your Own Good.” which covers much of this same ground.

    I feel for myself that Maya Angelou’s famous quote is pertinent here: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

    So I am hoping its not so much about being a “good” or a “bad” person (I know what some people would say – LOL) but rather are we each being authentic and working to heal ourselves and others from these ugly circumstances.

    And so I honor and respect both of you and your journeys.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh Janet what would this site be without you – and thank you for bringing up Alice Miller – when I was in the reading stage her work was critically important – a genuine witness. And just think we at least have a place to post personal truths and NOT be dismissed… oh Carol’s mission lives on…

      Liked by 1 person

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