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Heal & ForgiveReview - Heal & Forgive
Forgiveness in the Face of Abuse
by Nancy Richards
Blue Dolphin, 2005
Review by Mark Welch, Ph.D.
May 13th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 20)

In this short but intensely personal book Nancy Richards tells her own story of quite horrific emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her step-father and her response that led to rejection by and of her family, anger and resentment, an initial refusal to forgive and a final realization of what forgiving may me to her as well as the perpetrator.

It is not a sophisticated tale. She does not go into any great theoretical debate as to the root causes. She does not engage with any great exploration of the murky psychological depths or social analysis of abuse. She describes what life was like for her and her brothers after the death of her father and her mother's remarriage to a succession of controlling and abusive men. She talks of beatings and a set of draconian rules, of everything having to be just so. She speaks of a tinder box existence with a martinet with a furious temper. She describes her ambivalent relationship with her mother who she blames and is blamed by, rejects and is rejected by, with whom she is angry and is angry at her, and with whom she wrestles with forgiveness.

The descriptive passages of her abuse, which does not appear to have been sexual, are disturbing enough for anyone's needs. There are the sadly familiar details of not being believed and of reacting violently to violence. She talks of the more permanent damage it appeared to do to her siblings. But despite that she came round, after more than twenty years to being able to consider that forgiveness, even when it was not asked for and possible to bestow in person may do more to set herself free than anything else. The unburdening became a pivotal moment for her.

She did not do this alone. She had many years of therapy and help. And at the end of the book, after she had consciously rejected her family, she begins to talk about forgiveness. It is not something that can be forced, it cannot be demanded. It begins, she says, with healing, and the first step is validation. Once the experience of the abuse is validated, is believed, it becomes possible to appropriately and constructively channel the anger over the abuse in an empowering way and not against the self. Periods of grief and a final protectiveness consolidate the healing from which forgiveness can emerge.

She describes forgiveness as transformational and as a process. It was born, in large part, of the rediscovery of her ability to love herself. It was sustained by her belief in her self-worth, and to some extent by the realization that this is a book that only she could have written, but would still be the story of many silenced or unarticulated voices.

This is not a manual to forgiveness. It is one woman's story that she hopes may find a resonance with others, that may help others not feel quite as alone as she had done, that may show what is possible, that may give people choice where there seems to be none.

For these reasons it may hold as much value to a reader as it clearly did for the writer. Healing and forgiveness are possible and she just wanted us to know that.

© 2008 Mark Welch

Mark Welch, British Columbia

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