Recovering from Child Abuse through Forgiveness?

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These days it seems that almost everyone adheres to the belief that forgiveness holds the key to redemption and peace in one’s life. After all it seems logical to agree that forgiveness is an important part of living a spiritual life of no regrets. After all, how can it be healthy to go around holding grudges?

However, I contend it may be necessary to take each circumstance on a case by case basis as to the appropriateness of the need to forgive someone in your life. Obviously for someone who is recovering from child abuse it will have a longer history of being held in the body and memory than a recent injury to our ego or feelings from someone who may have slighted us accidentally or purposely in our adult lives.

Unlike many therapeutic and religious views, I believe the decision to forgive or not to forgive is a personal one. I know there are those who will disagree that there is only one “right” thing to do, and that it always is correct to forgive unconditionally without question. After almost thirty years of working with clients in my practice who have suffered from varying degrees of child abuse and molestation I have come to the conclusion that it is never ”right” to push a person beyond their comfort level at whatever stage of their process they may be in at any given moment.

In fact I have many clients who come to me as they are recovering from the judgments and belief systems that have been pushed on them by the agenda of well-meaning friends and therapists. When they hear me agree with their gut feeling that they are not ready to forgive their perpetrator or perceived enemy yet for whatever abuse they sustained, I can feel them audibly sigh as they let go of the armor they were ready to put up against another therapist’s objection to their own inner knowing.

In the Alchemical work I do, we believe that forgiveness should spring forth as a natural result of having cleared a trauma and having made that part of you that was wronged (often the Inner Child) feel completely safe and rescued from that situation. In fact the word “Alchemy” is synonymous with “transformation” and that is literally what we do with the memory – it is transformed to the point that the pain associated with it is gone from the body and mind. The memory of the event is still present, but the charge associated with it is gone. In other words the things that used to trigger it will not have the same effect on us any longer. At that point it is natural to forgive the person who hurt us, because it is not forced since the pain is gone.

The way that Colin Tipping puts it in his work of Radical Forgiveness is that we can now see that other person who hurt us as our “healing angel.” Of course we were in their life for the same purpose. Since we were both just playing out our roles in the dance of life, there is theoretically, no victim and nothing to forgive.  When we see things in that way, we can see that to hold onto the grudge we’ve been carrying against them is only causing us to lug around some heavy baggage and it is time to let go and lighten our load.

I helped Colin create the self-growth board game called Satori: The Game of Radical Forgiveness to teach people to do this easily for themselves as they play, the same way he teaches participants in his workshops. The game gives you a chance to feel your feelings around your pain by making you walk up the levels to finally reaching bliss or “Satori” by starting in Vicitmland. While you are there you can blame people to your heart’s content and you better not try to cop out by doing a “spiritual bypass” around your feelings or you may get sent back to start.

In the first personal growth board game I created called Clarity: The Game of Your Lifewhich helps people ”play through their issues” in the manner that we help our clients with Alchemical Hypnotherapy, there is a landing space of  ”Forgiveness” on the board. Over the ten years I’ve been playing with hundreds of players I found that people have a tendency to be very flippant and judgmental in their forgiveness of others.

I have concluded that it is easy to pay lip service to the idea of forgiving, but the act itself is best done in its truest spirit or not at all – certainly not simply because it is the “right” thing to do.  Therefore I would like to see people less ready to be obliging to forgive others and see them instead put the onus on themselves to apologize for things they actually did to hurt or harm another.  If more people would take responsibility and apologize for their wrong-doings, there would automatically be more forgiveness to go around in the world.

Hearing Voices on The View

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I was wondering what I was going to do for my first blog entry for my new site? And then fate intervened. You may have heard the controversy over Bill Maher’s interview on The View yesterday, September 30, 2008. He was on promoting his new movie, “Religulous,” which pokes holes in organized religion, so it was not surprising that the subject of religion came up.

The segment opened with Whoopi perhaps foreshadowing the fiery end of it when she mentioned out loud that her producers had just reminded her to be sure to let Sherri Shephard ask “her question” to Bill. When “the question” was actually asked, it did not sound like an interviewer’s scripted question, but merely a lateral thought as a counter-point to the conversation. Bill was giving a very rational accounting of the fact that the virgin birth, death and resurrection plot had shown up in many ancient religions – not just Christianity.

Here’s what ensued, as best I could transcribe it, beginning with “the question”:

SHERRY: When you did this movie you talked to lots of people about God. Have you ever just talked to God, and asked God, what does He think?

BILL: Well…uh…

SHERRI: When you think about it, God’ll talk to you, Bill, it’ll be real deep.

BILL: The question is, did he answer you?

SHERRI: Did he answer me? He answered me! He absolutely answered me!

BILL: Then we should call Belleview! [a mental hospital in NYC]

SHERRI: No, we don’t need to call Belleview. Did he answer you?

BILL: If you think… That’s just a voice in your head… [and he made the crazy sign with his right index finger going in a circle around his head].

SHERRI: No, it’s not a voice, it’s not a voice.

BILL: It’s just a voice…

SHERRI: No, it’s not just a voice…

BILL: You mean God actually – God actually…

WHOOPI: Well, we gotta go…

I would say that if not daily, then at least weekly, or for sure more than once a month, I hear a reference to the fact that anyone who hears voices is crazy. And it’s always accompanied by a series of non-verbal assurances of their own sanity including, but not limited to: the crazy sign Bill Maher used, a widening of the eyes, a straightening of the posture, and a moving backward – a visible disassociation – from anyone who may be admitting to (or even alluding to) the forbidden act of “hearing voices.”

Where did this fear come from? And why is it so deeply instilled? And what would happen if people would take it off the list of things to be afraid of in the same way we downgrade the boogie man from that list as we get older?

In breaking down why it might be scary, the biggest cause of consternation would be the fear of incarceration into an insane asylum, and I can definitely understand that kind of worry. And, of course, the worst part is that if you utter those words to the wrong mental health professional, or law enforcement officer, at the wrong time, your worst fears could come true.

So then we could ask why the admission of “hearing voices” could lead to such a terrible fate? Well, obviously, because there are psychopaths out there who have committed horrendous acts because a voice told them to do it. Does the logic follow, therefore, that we are actually afraid of being psychopathic if we hear a voice? The answer is maybe or maybe not – but we’re definitely afraid someone else will think we are!

I cite statistics in my book, Talking to My Selves: Learning to Love the Voices in Your Head, ( also available on that according to studies in both the US and England, roughly 7-10% of the population has admitted to hearing voices, which were in 85% of cases, helpful, with “extremely positive and beneficial results.” Yet out of those 20 million people, virtually none of them had ever spoken about their experiences before they were interviewed!

Therein lies the F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real! So 85% of 20 million people have good experiences and go on to lead better lives thanks to the voices they heard in their head; but hardly one out of 17 million says anything about it. That’s a lot of people keeping quiet about something that they have no reason to be ashamed of, just because of all those people like Bill Maher that’ll think they’re crazy, shun them, or make them the brunt of their jokes. Case in point: Shirley MacLaine.

Hey, I’m only one person, and this is just my first blog entry, but I want to make it a goal in my lifetime to blow up this myth that keeps us feeling trapped and alone inside our head, through an open dialog where we can explore the evidence by allowing the silent majority to come out of their closets. Is it really scarier than the boogey man? Come on, Bill, man up, and stop bullying people who may even have something to teach you.

Healing From Child Abuse

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The prevalence of sexual abuse of children is so widespread that chances are you will run across adults who have been victims of it, if you have not already, in the form of friends, relatives or co-workers. If you work with children, learning the signs of child abuse and stepping in as a confidante can save a child years of silent psychological torment, help them heal, and stop them from going on to become an abuser and continue the cycle of this secret epidemic. Education is our best weapon against its spreading, and for ending its dangerous effects upon society in terms of crime, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, depression, sexual dysfunction and overcrowding of prisons. Yet despite the hideousness of this act, it can also be the more innocuous every day occurrences which have almost equally damaging, often insidious effects on individuals who may even believe that they had wonderful childhoods.

I am holding a workshop which will address the wounds almost all of us carry, to help participants in healing from child abuse by bringing the light into the places that usually remain tightly closed and buried. The ability to share ourselves fully, and be heard and loved for who we are, can be a life-changing experience. It is also a privilege to be a witness for others in the group and to hold space for them in their healing.

Here is what one client who came to Atlanta from central Florida for a week to work with me on her sexual abuse issues had to say about the work we did after being plagued by it for her entire life:

Dear Debbie,

Your book “Talking to My Selves” is a must read.  It opened the door to better understand the trauma that impacted my life.  I was able to push past the negative thoughts that tried to prevent my getting your help.  From the day I made my appointment with you I became ill as my body was reacting to a great fear.  I would have canceled if not for the information in the book.

I still had to push past the voices as I drove through the security gate for our first appointment.  But you made me feel at ease and I was able to trust your direction.  The work we did has made amazing changes in my life.  I know there is continued effort on my part and I have been able to use the tools developed in our sessions.  I also know you will be there for any support I may need in the future.

Thank you is not enough.

– B.R., Florida

Although this is a class that I have been teaching mainly for Alchemical Hypnotherapists for the last 20 years, I am opening it up to include lay people as well as those in the healing professions.

Our next class on healing from child abuse is:
Healing from the Trauma and Shame of Childhood Abuse, June 17-19, 2011, Atlanta, GA

Dr. Susan Kolb interviews Debbie on “The Temple of Health” radio show. June 19, 2010

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Click Here To listen


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This week there was an item in the news that caught my attention. It was a fascinating study that was researched by the telephony department of the British Post Office. They studied 2000 people and and asked them what they liked and disliked about talking on the telephone. They turned that data into a formula for making the perfect phone call. It should last 9 minutes and 36 seconds and even includes 12 seconds of silence between the parties.

They’ve actually broken it down to the second of what topics “should” be covered in how much time. The biggest slice, 3 minutes, is to be spent catching up with news about family and friends, with the next largest portions devoted to 1 minute each on personal problems, work or school, and general topics.

The other 3 minutes and 36 seconds include 42 seconds talking about current affairs, 24 seconds on the weather, and 12 seconds of celebrity gossip. Chat about the opposite sex should last 24 seconds, and the perfect conversation includes 42 seconds of time spent laughing. The person who was found to be called the most was mom.

According to the London Telegraph, the head of telephony at the Post Office, Hugh Stacey, said: “This research shows us what people really want from a chat on the phone. People obviously value news about their loved ones, with news about family and friends topping the charts. Psychotherapist Christine Webber was quoted in another London paper saying: “Regular contact with friends or family brings down blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and may stave off dementia.”

Well, even though only 3% reported dad as the person they spoke to, compared to 20% who talked to mom, I have to say my family must be a little different. We’ve had an unwritten rule in my family since my brother and I left for college in the 1970′s to call home once a week and it seemed to be my father that enforced it. Since my mother died in 2001, it hasn’t changed. It must work for him, since he just turned 83 and she died at 72 with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and dimentia.

The thing that gets me, though, is that as a teenager, back in the day of princess phones, busy signals, and one phone line, I got yelled at almost daily for tying up the line with my girl friends. We certainly skewed the statistics with a lot more time spent on gossip, the opposite sex and laughing, and I don’t think we ever got off in less than an hour.

Every night I remember my father opening my door and yelling at me to get off and stop tying up the line. I can still hear his voice in my head drilling the same old line as I was forced to hang up, “You can say everything you need to say on the phone in 10 minutes!!!” I always thought he was nuts. Who knew that someday they would prove he was right?