Exchange with Jane
What Abusers and Survivors Need to Know

What Abusers and Survivors Need to Know: www.child-abuse-effects.com

You may find Exchange with Jane somewhat harsh. I've been criticized for the seemingly heartless approach I took with Jane in our email exchange. And I understand how visitors might see it that way. My purpose in replying as I did was to give her what I believed was a reality check. Whether or not it was my right to do so will always be up for debate. What's done is done, and I haven't tried to hide anything here.

Jane is a self-admitted abuser who went to prison for abusing her son. She lives somewhere in Canada.

All comments were posted with Jane's permission.

In an effort to empower abuse victims, and with the intent of educating abusers who are visitors to this site, I have reproduced our full exchange on this page. I felt compelled to include some additional comments at the end.

What Abusers and Survivors Need to Know

An Exchange with Jane

Jane's first e-mail:

Hi. I was abused as a child and I became the abuser with my first child. He was taken away from me with no sort of help from anyone. This was in the 80's when there was no help compared what is available right now. I am not trying to justify what I did. I deserved to pay for this and I did. I went to prison for women in [Canada] (changed to protect Jane's privacy).

I want to share this story. I've been wanting [to] because this is where healing comes and is less harder to talk about. Don't get me wrong, I have been talking about my story but only to people that I can trust.

My son is now 22 yrs old and bitter towards me. I can sense it in his attitude when he talks about related matters surrounding the abuse. Although we have discussed it and I've asked for his forgiveness, he says he forgives but I sense he hasn't. But since this happened many years ago I've healed from my anger that I've had from my own childhood. I recognise the signs and feelings of frustrations. Well, I guess I feel that I have to put my foot down with my son because he says hurtful things towards me intentionally and even exaggerates stories of his abuse to me that are not even correct. He says "the doctor says" this is why I am like that.

Please if you would like to discuss this with me, email me.


My reply:

Make no mistake, Jane, I'm not writing for your benefit; I'm writing for the benefit of your son.

Let me be clear. Your son will never forgive you, unless and until he believes that you understand what you did to him physically and emotionally. Unless and until you acknowledge every painful moment, every neglectful second. It is a consequence of the abuse you chose to inflict upon him in the first place. And it WAS a choice, Jane. Somewhere along the way, you gave yourself permission to harm your son. Chances are, you would have treated a stranger with more dignity and respect because you would have known it was wrong to hurt another person and that there would likely be legal ramifications.

Yes, you've paid the legal price for your choice; but your emotional price may well be a life sentence.

You said, ". . . I have to put my foot down with my son because he says hurtful things towards me intentionally and even exaggerates stories of his abuse to me that are not even correct."

Jane, when you tell him he is exaggerating what happened to him as a child, you deny what you did to him, and you make him relive every horrible moment--this could well be the reason he says hurtful things to you. Your perception of what occurred doesn't matter here. It's your son's perception that is critical. If he chooses to forgive you, it must be on his terms, not yours, and it must be for HIM, not you.

Jane, I will not coddle you. You need a reality check. The only possible hope you have of a loving relationship with your son is if you acknowledge everything HE BELIEVES you did to him. EVERYTHING.

And then when you do acknowledge everything, you must take responsibility for all of it. Sincere responsibility. Never mind that you were abused yourself as a child. Never mind that you say you've forgiven your abusive parent. At this point, he doesn’t need to hear any of this. It isn't about you anymore, Jane. It's about your son and his ability to forgive so that he can move on with his life.

This could be--and really should be--a long road for you. As his birth mother, as his abuser, you have the moral obligation to spend the rest of your life if necessary, proving to him that you grasp the magnitude of his pain so that he, your precious son, can indeed move forward instead of back. So that your precious son can be productive and stop the cycle of abuse that was your legacy. This would be the most loving gift you could ever give to him, Jane.

The question is, are you woman enough to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done?

If your answer is "yes, I am woman enough", then prove it to your son. If your answer is "no', you shouldn't be involved in his life until the answer becomes a resounding "yes". There's nothing left to say.

Sincerely,
Darlene Barriere


Subsequent reply from Jane:

I feel like my world just shattered by your harsh comments. First of all, you do not know me or what I have revealed to my son. I have done all that you have said in your comments to me. I am a person with feelings too. I don't like the way you referred to me as nothing, because I am someone. And yes, my son is someone whom I really love. You make it sound that I don't love him.

I am truly sorry for you, the way you feel about me in your comments, but many people like me are very sincere in their healing and talking about abuse that they inflicted to others in fact to help others, to help others in preventing abuse to happen in their families. I have nothing left to say.


My response:

Jane, you revealed a lot more about yourself in your letter to me than you realize. Yes, you are a person with feelings. You are a survivor of child abuse; and for this, I truly do have respect for you. It took all your courage and coping skills to get through whatever hell you had to live through as a child. I identify with this part of you only too well.

When I replied to you, I was directing all that I said to Jane the mother, not Jane the survivor. This is an important distinction of roles. Your emotional reply to my response tells me you reacted as a victim, which further tells me that you are not ready to deal with your son in the way that he, the survivor, needs. You say you've forgiven your abusive parent, but what you've revealed to me is someone still in a great deal of pain and anguish, someone who still needs help with her own horrendous past. It takes a lot more courage to admit to needing help than it does to say I'm doing fine.

You told me that you asked for your son's forgiveness and that he gave it to you, but that you sense he really hasn't. You also told me he is bitter towards you and that you can sense it in his attitude when he talks about related matters surrounding the abuse.

When a person asks for forgiveness, that person must be ready for an outright "no, I won't forgive you" or for forgiveness that's conditional. Conditional forgiveness is a statement that says, "Prove to me that you really are sorry. Prove to me that this isn't about you, but that it's about me. Prove to me that you acknowledge everything you did to me".

Based on your own words, Jane, it's clear that you asked for yourself, not for your son. If this had been about your son, you would never have asked his forgiveness in the first place. You would have made every effort to earn his forgiveness, without asking, without judgment, without conditions of your own. You passed judgment and made conditions when you said he exaggerates what happened to him.

In your second letter, you claim to have done all of the things I listed, as it relates to you and your son. You may think that's what you've done, but if you had done what I stated, you would never have said that you have to "put your foot down" when your son "exaggerates" the abuse that happened to him. That statement is the most typical statement given by an abuser who has not taken true responsibility for what she did to her son.

When you use the phrase "exaggerates stories of his abuse to me that are not even correct", you call him a liar and invalidate what he perceives as the truth, which only serves to build on the anger and resentment he already has. Maybe this will help you understand why he feels bitterness toward you, why he has an attitude when the two of you talk about abuse related matters. It's for this reason I said that your perception of events doesn't matter. I directed my statement at Jane the mother, but you took it from the perspective of Jane the survivor, the little girl who is still wounded and hurting very deeply.

You called my letter "harsh". The cold reality is harsh, Jane, but my letter was not a personal attack. At no time did I say you didn't love your son; in fact, I'm convinced that you love him dearly. Why else would you put yourself at risk by writing me in the first place.

Jane, at no time did I say you were nothing. What I said was that as it relates to a relationship with your son as his mother, what you lived through as a child does not matter, because he doesn't need to hear it. That's your need, not his. Your needs do matter, but not as they relate to being his mother and helping him deal with his torment.

My letter was a key to the door of a loving relationship--meaning a healthy relationship--with your son, but your own pain and anguish has gotten in the way of seeing it for what it is. When Jane the survivor has truly dealt with her own stuff, then Jane the mother will be able to see and understand this.

You survived child abuse and prison, and I suspect, a great deal more than you revealed to me. That takes a massive amount of strength . . . there's no doubt in my mind that you have the intestinal fortitude--what it takes--to do what needs to be done. What's left is for you to make the choice to do it . . . if not now, at some point in the future . . . but only when you're strong enough from your own healing.

I really do wish you and your son all the best, Jane.


Some Additional Comments on Exchange with Jane

Not surprisingly, Jane did not reply back to my second e-mail. I have no way of knowing if she even read what I wrote, but I felt it necessary to write her to clarify what is was that I was trying to say to her, because it appeared to me she really did not understand. I sincerely hope that at some point she DOES understand.

More than anything, victims of abuse need to be validated. Victims have an innate need to know that their abuser understands what was done to them. Acknowledging the abuse itself is important, but it isn't nearly enough.

If the abuser truly wants to make amends, then s/he must acknowledge the destructive child abuse effects the abuse had on their victim: the depression, the nightmares, the hostility, the shame, the guilt and fear and self-blame, the powerlessness, the desolation of not being believed, the inability to trust, the suicidal thoughts, the bleakness, the emptiness, the devastation of re-living every horrifying moment day after day after day; and the tragedy of it all is that these are but a few of the damaging child abuse effects that survivors must cope with.

Most child abuse survivors fantasize a confrontation with their abusers. The ones who get the chance are likely to be disappointed, because they want to know why; there is never a good reason why.

Yes, abusers often come from abuse themselves, but not all child abuse victims go on to abuse. When an abuser uses their own childhood abuse as the reason why they themselves went on to maltreat or molest, it's an excuse. It's a way to avoid taking responsibility and being accountable for what they did.

Does this mean that abusers who were themselves child abuse victims should just forget what happened to them?

No, of course not. What I'm saying is there are two clearly different situations to address, which is what I tried to impart in my exchange with Jane.

Abusers need help for their own personal hell. If they choose to forgive the person who was THEIR abuser, that's admirable, but they should never expect the same from their victims. An expectation of forgiveness puts the onus on the victim, rather than where it belongs: with the abuser. It is up to the abuser to earn the forgiveness, not ask for it. Forgiveness comes from the heart, not from the lips.

To summarize . . .

Abusers: When you make amends, you make it about the victim, not about you.

Survivors: Forgiveness does not have to be for the abuser. Forgiveness is for you, on your terms, in your own time. Forgiveness says:

You no longer have power over me


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References

NOTE: Information pages on this site were based on material from the Canadian Red CrossCanadian Red Cross RespectED Training Program. Written permission was obtained to use their copyrighted material on this site.

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