Forgiveness and Psychological Torture

by Loolwa Khazzoom • September 17, 2010 • Family Secrets

My dad recently emailed me, asking me to be “bold” and embrace forgiveness – ie, forgive him in honor of the New Year. This request came despite the fact that in a previous email, I specifically stated that the issue for me is not one of forgiveness, but rather one of feeling safe. I do not feel safe with someone around whom I must completely disappear in order to be in relationship.

My dad has never taken accountability for any of his hurtful behaviors towards me. To the contrary, when I have shared with him my experiences and the pain they have caused me, my father has responded as the wounded victim – as if the very act of sharing my experience made me the perpetrator.

This theme ran throughout my childhood: When I was 14, my dad flew into one of his frequent rages at my mom. There was an unspoken rule in the house that when my dad behaved like that, everyone was to stay perfectly still – ie, not call attention to the fact of what my father was doing. But by the age of 14, I had the courage to get up and walk out the door. Or shall I say, head toward the door.

My dad pivoted and directed the full force of his rage at me: “Do not walk out that door! You’re making me feel like my uncle, who used to scream at my aunt, and I would think he was an idiot and look at him in disgust and leave.”

Um, well, yeah, I remember thinking, you’re pretty much the spitting image of your uncle right now.

I also remember feeling confused. And frightened. My dad had powerful, intimidating, all-encompassing anger. I believe I did walk out the door, but my clear visual image is frozen in time, in that face-to-face confrontation, with my hand on the door, half-open, and my dad all up in my face, and me being like, Huh? Wha??!

The message was this: When I am being violent, you may not point out to me that I am being violent. Your telling me that I am violent is in itself an act of violence against me. Your telling me I hurt you is wounding me. Oh yeah, and let’s just erase that whole thing I did that instigated your saying anything to me, because it didn’t happen, and if it did, it was irrelevant, and did I mention that you’re mean and bad?

When I was 16, I began taking my dad to therapy, in the hope of working out our relationship, feeling safe with him, and being close with him. This endeavor went on for five years, until I realized my dad was utterly hopeless.

Not only did my dad complain about my expressing feelings about his behaviors and requsting that he change abusive patters (informing me that I should thank my lucky stars because, unlike him, some parents beat their kids up), but after therapy, my dad regularly pulled the car to the side of the road and raged at me for about an hour, explicitly forbidding me from plugging my ears to stave off the physical pain that his raging was causing me.

Because when I plugged my ears, it made him feel as if he were raging at me and causing pain in my ears.

When I was 18, I was suicidal. Not the run-of-the-mill, teen-with-suicidal-thoughts suicidal, but damn near close to pulling the plug. I traced a knife along my wrists. I drove at an accelerated speed toward a wall, swerving only at the last minute. I wanted to die with every fiber of my being. Except the part of me that wanted to want to live.

That part of me somehow gathered the strength and courage to tell my mom I was suicidal and needed help. She responded by sleeping in my room with me and putting a heavy chain lock on the door, so that she would hear me if I were to get up in the middle of the night and try to take my life.

I got an entirely different reaction from my dad.

I remember it was an afternoon, and we were in the dining room. My dad was sitting on the couch, his back to the window. I kneeled before him. He was reading the paper. “Daddy,” I said. He lowered the paper, looking over it at me. “I need help. I am suicidal. I need help so that I don’t kill myself.”

It took every ounce of courage, as well as the sum total of strength in that little part of me that wanted to want to live, to be able to ask my dad for help. My dad looked at me and asked rhetorically, “Oh, so now you want to make me feel like a bad father?” He raised the paper back up and continued reading.

Despite the many ways it had been “All Dad, All the Time,” I remember being stunned. Flat out stunned. I started shaking. I’d just told him I was afraid I would take my own life and die. We remained like that, him reading the paper, me kneeling and shaking, until I got up and left the room.

Forgiveness. My dad wants forgiveness. Without any acknowledgment of or apology for his actions or interest in how they affected me. He wants us to go to lunch. “Like father and daughter,” he says.

As a kid, I was acutely aware of how people could do all kinds of horrific shit, then be forgiven for it just because they got old – without taking any accountability or making any amends. I thought that was totally uncool.

Even from the time I was a young child, and continuing throughout my life, I busted my chops in self-reflecting, speaking truth, behaving authentically, and doing the work of personal transformation, no matter how crazy difficult and scary the process was. How unjust it was that numerous people just careened through life without giving a fuck about anyone but themselves, then got blanket forgiveness without any consequence for their actions — just because they were old and could say with the wave of a hand, “Oh, I was young back then.” Or in my father’s case, just expect forgiveness, period.

I recently was talking with a friend of mine whose father died without ever acknowledging or apologizing for his sexual abuse of her. “When a parent is abusive,” she said, “then refuses to acknowledge the abuse, despite the fact that the child suffered from the scars for years past the abuse itself, the parent adds a layer of psychological torture.”

Word. Add to that the fact that the parent then makes the kid the bad guy and the forgiveness-hater and the Yom Kippur screw-upper, and, the insanity just continues.

4 Responses to “Forgiveness and Psychological Torture”

  1. mulderfan
    Sep 18, 2010

    Loolaw, when my NF raged we sat quietly trying to avoid eye contact.

    During dinner, when I was about 15, my older brother spilled his food. NF went berserk and began beating him with a broom handle until he was unconscious. I stood up and yelled, “Leave my brother alone!” NM grabbed my arm and pushed me back into my chair saying, “Finish your dinner!” Eyes down we ate while the beating continued.

    One of my therapists told me I would have fared better with physical abuse because emotional scars illicit very little sympathy and spectators seldom intervene.

    My younger brother (now an N himself!) tells the story of interrupting NF’s reading to pour his heart out about something. In the midst of his tale, NF looked out of the window and said, “Look, a robin on the lawn!” then went back to reading his book.

    I am a 64 years old expat Brit, who has lived in Canada since 1952, yet, despite our widely differing backgrounds, I can mirror your experiences almost exactly. Creepy and very sad!

  2. mulderfan
    Sep 18, 2010

    Apologies for the misspelling of your name, Loolwa!

  3. mulderfan
    Sep 18, 2010

    Here I am again Loolwa! I am not a Christian but have found a website that gives me great insight into dealing with the kind of abuse we both have suffered. The format of this website is less than professional but it’s worth the effort!

  4. rachel wahba
    Oct 17, 2010

    loolwa you are a beautiful spirit, and his cruel clueless self pitying behavior continues to be such a disappointment of massive proportions. its horrible, and its the way many many betrayals are carried out. they really see themselves as victims. its sick its wrong and its pathetic to say the least. you are amazing and strong and you can if you want to, forgive but never forget. and if you don’t want to forgive, thats fine, you are not spoiling any Yom Kippur. You are not required to forgive the perpetrator of sexual abuse. no way, forgiving is for you, so that you are not in suffering, so that you are the loolwa you want to be. G’d does not ask you to forgive the father who molested you and is so weak then and now to take responsibility for his sin, for his crossing a line that should not be crossed, for his neediness, for his utter and complete weakness of mind and spirit. your soul is whole. you not only survived but you thrive, you dance, you scream, you are alive. alive. dancing alive. when you let go of wanting him to be your equal, you will find peace…you can do what you want loolwa, for you, not for him. personally i would love to smack some sense into him, but that is not possible. there is no way to enter his defensive system he is too weak. weak weak weak. its horribly disappointing. dance girl, dance! no matter what, keep dancing and thriving.
    he isl lost, you are not. i tell myself all these things over and over again —as one who knows betrayal first hand.
    i love you,

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Loolwa KhazzoomLoolwa Khazzoom has worked with leading media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and ABC News. In addition, she has published two books and has lectured at prestigious venues including Barnard Center for Research on Women, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Harvard University. Loolwa is passionate about health, music, dance, multiculturalism, and Judaism.

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Loolwa Khazzoom is a a public relations manager specializing in holistic media, holistic marketing, holistic public relations, and holistic promotions. Her services include branding and messaging development, image and communications management, website content development and optimization, social media management, traditional media campaign management, book development, and in-house writing and editing.

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