HEAL & FORGIVE: Forgiveness In The Face Of Abuse

Heal & Forgive

Forgiveness In The Face Of Abuse

By Nancy Richards

(Review by Rev. Renee)

            Heal and Forgive is the best book I’ve read in a very long time, and  I would be hard-pressed to come up with a more helpful book to recommend.  It is unique in its perspective in that it teaches the reader that sometimes it is okay, and even necessary, NOT to forgive.  It is a page turner right from the beginning, gripping you with Nancy Richards’ riveting and disturbing story of her sadistic stepfather’s violence and relentless abuse of herself and her brothers, and her mother’s complicity in the abuse and complete refusal to protect her children in the slightest way. 

            Even more distressing is the author’s account of her attempts to protect herself and her brothers, and to stand up and speak the truth about the abuse, which resulted in her treacherous mother convincing anyone who would listen that she was a liar and troublemaker with mental problems.  There is a twisted episode in which her stepfather was finally going to move out, but her mother told the then 12-year old author to ask him to stay.  He did stay, and  years later the mother blamed her daughter for controlling her marriage (at age 12!) and making her husband stay when she could have been rid of him sooner.

            Long after the evil stepfather was gone and the author was grown, her mother continued to expose the author’s younger brothers to repeated abuse from a string of other losers she became involved with.  Nancy Richards tells, in heart-wrenching detail, of her attempts to protect her younger siblings, to get anyone to listen to her or believe her, and to somehow maintain a relationship with the mother she still loved and the rest of her family. 

            But, in a scenario disturbingly familiar to many abuse survivors, her mother managed to convince most of the family that Richards was the problem, and to turn almost her entire family against her, including the brothers she had tried so hard and sacrificed so much to protect.  The denial, betrayals, and blatant lies as the family protected the abusers and scape-goated the author will ring true with so many of us.

            And then the author was left to embark on the path to forgiveness, with absolutely no remorse or repentance from those she was pressured to forgive, and not even any validation of her traumatic experiences.  At each stage of the process, she faced renewed pain with every new revelation, such as the realizations that her mother was the one who betrayed her the most,  and that her mother really never loved her.

            Throughout her long and difficult journey to forgiveness and recovery, the author has many valuable insights which she lovingly shares with us.  The most important insight, which is the main premise of the book, is that healing needs to come FIRST, BEFORE forgiveness.  We usually feel pressured to forgive prematurely, by family and friends, therapists, and society in general.  But forced forgiveness is not always possible, and is certainly not healthy.        

            The author teaches us that forgiveness is a process that begins with healing, and needs to include other elements as well, such as validation, anger, grief, and protection. In the process of her recovery, Nancy Richards read other author’s works, which helped her to understand these truths about forgiveness, and she quotes from them in her book.  When reading Heal & Forgive, one gets the sense that the author is not just writing about her own experiences, but is doing all she can to present a well-rounded and informed picture that will help other abuse victims as much as possible.  She opens her heart to us, and shares her innermost thoughts and every feeling she has that might validate our own feelings and help us on our road to recovery.

            The book is an easy read, and I was able to finish it in a few sittings.  It was a hard book to put down, and I hated to walk away from it in the middle of the story without finding out what was going to happen next.  It was a lot of food for thought.  Nancy Richards does all abuse victims a favor when she teaches us that sometimes no matter what we are willing to do and how hard we are willing to try, it is just not possible to have a relationship with some people.  We understand how important it is to stand up and tell the truth- to others and to ourselves. 

            When we realize that someone we love doesn’t love us, the truth can be so hard to bear, but it is still the truth, and denying it doesn’t change anything.   We learn that sometimes we need to make the choice to walk away from a toxic relationship.  We feel validated in learning that it is alright NOT TO FORGIVE evil people, and that releasing ourselves from the pressure to forgive gives us the freedom to heal.  Only after we have healed will we be able to come to a place of genuine forgiveness.

            After reading Heal & Forgive, I admire Nancy Richards for her courage and determination to heal and lead a life of peace and happiness despite her birth-family’s rejection, and I am appreciative of her sincere efforts to encourage the rest of us and validate our experiences by sharing her story.  Her triumph over the devastation and heartache inflicted by those she loved is an inspiration to anyone who thinks they can never get over the pain and be happy again.  I urge all those who have felt the knife of a loved one’s betrayal in their back, or who feel pressured to forgive before they are ready, to read this book.  It is a must-read for any survivor of birth-family abuse.