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Changing perspective allows room for shades of gray

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Changing perspective allows room for shades of gray

Anonymous: About "doing the best she can" (from Monday).

This is a hot-button phrase for me. My mother tells me "I did the best I could" raising me. But she stayed with an abusive man and didn't divorce him until I was in my 30s. Our arguments always came down (I've given up on having them) to "I did the best I could" vs. "that wasn't good enough because the long abuse did us irreparable harm." Is there any resolution to what has now become something we can't get past?

Carolyn: "I did the best I could" doesn't mean she did enough. You know that from living it, but I think it's important to spell out the fact that claiming the first isn't the same as claiming the second.

Also, "I did the best I could" can leave room for the possibility that your mom had already sustained "irreparable harm" from the abuse before you were born — or was already scarred by someone/something else when she met and married your dad — and that harm or scarring inhibited her ability to protect herself or you. It could be that she left when she did only because he had weakened over time, and/or she got stronger in the years after her responsibility for raising you tapered off.

I'm offering these not as a definitive or comprehensive take on your situation, but instead as examples of ways even black-and-white situations (he abused you + she knew about it = you blame her) can leave room for gray. She's as much a victim as an abuser herself; she's as much an abuser as she is a victim.

And when there's gray, there's opportunity for a softer interpretation. If instead she had said, "I wasn't strong enough to save you," would you look upon this as an impasse still? "I did my best" essentially says the same thing, though the admission of failure is only implied.

I can see why you'd want an open admission of her failure — but, then, you'd be asking it of a woman who was abused for over 30 years, probably closer to 40; that kind of strength may have been yelled or beaten out of her.

It doesn't make what happened to you any less unfair or your mom's actions adequate, but I think it does give you room to forgive her. And by forgiving her, you would be taking an action that only you can take, to put that part of your upbringing to rest.

And, you'd be taking action, period. Given that abuse is the ultimate statement of power over the powerless, your making the decision to accept that your mom "did her best" — to accept that if she had the strength and courage and emotional good health to leave him when you were a baby, then she would have — is a way to put yourself in control of your feelings.

In other words, you'd no longer be looking to your dad to stop abusing you, or to your mom to save you from him, or to your mom to apologize to you.

You'd be the one taking the actions, making the decisions, and deciding where to file your past. Liberating possibilities all.

Changing perspective allows room for shades of gray 03/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2011 12:12pm]
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