September 28, 2012


The word "forgiveness" is laden with meaning and misunderstanding. Many daughters were taught at a very early age that nice girls forgive and forget. The clear message is that we are expected to forgive anyone who has hurt us because it is the right thing to do.

While I do believe in the rightness and importance of forgiveness and in the emotional benefits it can give you, I do see it in a different light. Forgiveness is positive and healing when we can see that the person's intentions were not to hurt us. But we do ourselves no good when we try to deny the pain we felt. And we can actually set ourselves up for further harm when we don't deal with the reality that we were hurt and that the person is likely to hurt us again~whether inadvertently or on purpose.

Many people misconstrue forgiveness as somehow condoning the original offending behavior, as if saying that it is all right. But I believe that accountability is crucial for mental health. So I counsel you to pardon only someone who is accountable for her behavior, when she has owned up to it, has become conscious of it, and is truly sorry for having done it. While this may sound harsh, not many narcissistic mothers do this, so I do not advocate pardons for most of them.

I do advise that you practice a kind of inner letting go, however~for your own good. Daughters of narcissistic mothers have been unloved, and many have been abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. We do not condone bad mothering. We do not condone ignoring the basic needs and rights of children. But you do have to let go of this past internally, so that you, the daughter, can also let go of your anger, rage, and sadness. You forgive by forgoing these negative emotions so that you can go on for the rest of your life.

Step One of the grief process allows you to accomplish the internal letting go. Afterward, you will have an internal feeling that is more neutral; you will no longer have the intense emotions you once associated with your mother. This neutrality allows you to keep that feeling of letting go. It feels like internal forgiveness. It is your gift to yourself.


"The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness....When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us."

H/T: Lewis Smedes, Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve

My theory and practice of forgiveness is not the only way. Many daughters find it helpful to draw on their religious or spiritual backgrounds to help them forgive. Twelve-step addiction programs advocate that true forgiveness is when you can wish the person well who has hurt you and pray for her to have all that she wishes for. They also take it a step further and suggest that you pray for the hurtful person to have all the things that you want for yourself~health, wealth, and happiness.

"Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour, unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family."

H/T: Henry Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing

My main concern for your recovery is that the form of forgiveness that you choose to implement eradicates blame so thoroughly that you have no traces of feeling like a victim. For if you continue to live in a victim mentality, you are at risk of defining your life based on your wounds. That would mean that you were allowing yourself to be controlled by your mother's failures. Being free from the feeling of victimization is a true sign of recovery.

H/T: Karyl McBride, Ph.D., Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

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