Some things are unforgivable.
A client arrived at my office one morning singing the song, “Ding Dong. The Witch is Dead,” a song from the Wizard of Oz. She told me that her mother-in-law had died two weeks before and that she had attended the funeral. And then she smiled and said that the song “just felt right” to be whistling. She said she felt no pain at the loss of her mother-in-law. The death had been anticipated, and I knew my client’s mother-in-law had caused her tremendous pain over the past 25 years.
For many of my clients, the death of an in-law, parent, grandparent, or sibling may have them whistling, “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead.”
Dr. Laura Brown, a clinical psychologist, wrote a book called, “Your Turn for Care: Surviving the Aging and Death of the Adults Who Harmed You.” I’ve mentioned this book in a previous blog post. You can buy a copy on-line if you like.
Dr. Brown gave the keynote speech at a conference I attended shortly after she finished writing the book. She told her audience, “I couldn’t find a publisher because I was told there’s no market for a book like this.” The room erupted in laughter, as 400 mental healthcare professionals shook their heads in disbelief.
My reason for mentioning Dr. Brown’s book is that I want to share a resource with you if you would like to explore this topic. There are mean people that have harmed those they should have held nearest and dearest, and Dr. Brown explores this topic in her book.
When mean people die, it’s okay for those they have been harmed to hum a little ditty. This line of thinking is in direct contrast to what we’ve been told repeatedly. Statements like, “Don’t speak ill of the dead,” readily spring to mind.
Forgiveness is a transaction
It’s common to be told we must forgive and forget. I don’t know where this sentiment comes from, but here’s my response to it.
To be able to forgive someone, they must first ask to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a transaction that occurs between two people. By definition, it’s impossible to forgive someone who hasn’t asked to be forgiven. You can strive to understand them if you are motivated to, but this is different. Understanding doesn’t mean forgiving.
And some things are just not forgivable. I say, “God bless,” to anyone who can’t understand this last sentence. It suggests they have never been hurt badly enough to make my assertion comprehensible.
I have worked with several clients where the transgressions of the person that has harmed them have not been forgivable. Here are a few examples, by way of illustration.
Some forms of harm are too severe
Information presented in these vignettes has been changed to protect privacy.
1. One woman’s mother was a pedophile and had offered her up as a child, sexually, to any family members or friends that might be interested in “having a go” with her. Her brothers all came of age sexually with her.
2. One man chose not to see her mother during her mother’s last months of life. The mother had abandoned him and his brothers as children. The man had executed a cut-off six years earlier, after much deliberation. First, he had asked his mother in a letter to step-up and love him but had received no response.
3. A second woman’s father had physically beaten her and her sibling as children. The father had beaten the woman the most severely and had hospitalized the woman several times as a girl. The woman refused to visit her father while the father was dying because the father had never taken responsibility for his actions.
Set appropriate boundaries
It is okay and even healthy to set appropriate boundaries with someone that has mistreated you, either as a child or as an adult. So, go ahead. Give yourself permission to do what is right for you.
You don’t have to forgive what someone has done when they have harmed you. You may even find yourself whistling “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead,” when you learn they have died.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta