Another blogger friend, who bravely has shared the pain of her childhood in her blog and the caring comments from other blogging friends has prompted me to write this post.
I don't ever remember having difficultly distinguishing compassion and understanding or the ability of imaging myself in someone else's shoes from expecting myself to take responsibility for my behavior. I think that some people do have a problem with this. Perhaps they're afraid that if they feel compassion for a guilty party that that means automatic forgiveness and exoneration of responsibility.
Often I've heard some folks say that a crappy childhood is not an excuse for bad and certainly not evil behavior. Well, I don't agree, no excuse is necessary. I can truly understand that if I were raised without love, boundaries, or being taught about respect for others let alone being raised unloved, not respected, not disciplined, or physically abused or tortured that I would (may) only know to do the same to anyone else who may displease me or who may have what I want. The rage resulting from such traumatic treatment could and often does result in dishonorable behavior and can be repeated from generation to generation. Does this tragic mind set of fear of compassion mean understanding without responsibility. Of course not. Behavior no matter how well tied to understanding and compassion must have consequences and it's okay to 'feel for the guy' even if those consequences include being locked away forever or in the extreme, death, so that person may never do the heinous behavior again.
'Oh', you say, 'we all know right from wrong and have a choice'. Not necessarily.
We all know what the general moral conscience is from society, but the absence of moral conscience may be how we were raised. If my father beat me as a child I may strongly and justifiably beat my child, disregarding the current societal views that corporal punishment is illegal. But remember when...spare the rod and spoil the child? I believe that we are all born with a capacity for moral conscience, but unless that capacity is filled by compassionate training it can be lost or buried to the degree of non existence.
My mother did feel love for me, of this, I have no doubt. But she did not know how to nurture or value another person which to me is true love. She was very self centered and had little respect for others.
She did not physically abuse me. But she did not set boundaries for me nor did she have disciplanary expectations of me. And she blamed me for my shortcomings in order to exonerate her own. She only did as she was raised. I of course, married a man who would sustain this model of myself. He did a great job. I continued to blame and hate myself for my behaviors and attitudes, but kept my beliefs sometimes unknown to myself and blamed and hated others for their behaviors and attitudes. Was my behavior understandable since it was all I knew? Sure. Was I responsible for it? You betcha! I was one of the lucky ones. I was miserable. And hurt. Enough to go to therapy. Many, maybe even most sick people inflict enough of their pain on to others to the degree that they aren't aware that they even feel it themselves. Sometimes they get enough power over others by imposing their pain on them that they never have the need to change anything. As I said I was lucky. I hurt. So I wanted to change things, to raise my daughter better, to break the family cycle of absence of really truly giving love. Now I didn't just run out and do this. I had no gauges, no measure, no feeling for love that wasn't self centered. But I knew one thing. That I was responsible for how well my daughter grew up. Was I a good mother. No. But I was better than my mother and I took responsibility with my daughter. I told her my story and also told her that the way she was raised was not her fault! Unlike what my mother told me. My daughter now had work of her own to do. She had to change herself in order to better raise her children. She learned that that was her responsibility. That girl has character. And she has done a great job. Much better than I could have dreamed for. Sure my grandsons won't grow up to be perfect people, but they are loved and nurtured and protected and disciplined and raised with a respect and love for God. Oh by the way, did my daughter ever take it out on me for opening the door to blame me. Of course. And I took a hammering for awhile, then I told her that the statutes of limitations had run out and that the remnants of 'mean mom' in her head were her responcibility to change. I had changed, now it was her turn. And yes, eventually she has forgiven me, but really the only thing that matters here is that our boys have not inherited the 'family' dysfunction and that the cycle has been broken after only God knows how many generations. How's that for helping to change the world for the better.
Wait a minute! How did I get all that wisdom in the first paragraph about compassion and understanding and separation from responsibility? Oh, it was always there, like, I believe in all of us, buried under tons of crap, crap that can make some of us go out and murder or make others miserable to relieve the rage. Like I said, I was lucky,
I turned my rage inward, 'thanks mom', and hurt. If I'd turned it outward, well I wouldn't be here would I.