December, 2001

Edited selections from the ASCA newsletter.

The original newsletter (pdf)


  1. As I See It: Parents as Perpetrators, by Bob Roberts
  2. Poetry, Poetry and More Wonderful Poetry: Three Poems
  3. Possible Rotation C Topic: Holiday Dynamics
  4. ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment: What is the ASCA Meeting Guidebook on Our Website?
  5. Interview with Denise

1. As I See It: Parents as Perpetrators

by Bob Roberts

Adult survivors who are grappling with childhood trauma were abused and/or abandoned by their parents. Otherwise, they could have shared and resolved their trauma as children with the empathy and love of their parents. I am approaching the issue of resolving the abuse with the perpetrators from the framework of having one’s parents as perpetrators.

As children, we are totally dependent on our parents for survival. In many parts of the world, adults remain dependent on family (or clan) relationships—one’s well-being and survival depend to a large degree on the relationship with one’s birth family. Even in countries where this is no longer true, we are not far removed from the days when being exiled from the clan threatened one’s survival. Even though it is now possible to survive—and even thrive—without ties to one’s family of origin, our society strongly reinforces the idea that “family values” are primary.

A survivor must confront the conflict between 1) the love and loyalty that each child must feel for their parents and 2) the feelings—hopelessness, sadness, and fury—resulting from the ways they were abused. This conflict becomes more open as we bring these feelings to consciousness—in the process of remembering and mourning. However, this remains a difficult and time-consuming process.

We take our abusive parents within us in order to survive

Our parents shape how we view ourselves. Survivors internalize their abusive parents as a harsh inner critic. A survivor may feel shameful, dirty, and bad—responsible and deserving of the abuse—in response to the attitude and voice of the internalized parent. In many cases, this is an explicit message, but even without the explicit criticism and shaming, the message is there. The abuse expresses the attitude of the parent. Even with many expressions of “Mommy and Daddy love you,” we internalized their real attitude. Abusive parents often isolate the family to keep the abuse hidden, reinforcing their impact on shaping our inner world.

Accepting this negative self-image is actually a creative way of surviving our childhoods. Had we not accepted their message that we were shameful and deserving of the treatment they gave us, we would have had to see that our situation was hopeless and would not change. This hopelessness would have been far worse than the shame that we accepted.

Our clarity in raising our own children in a loving and compassionate manner is at stake in this job of confronting our inner parent(s). When we meet in our children the expressions of emotion—such as anger, frustration, and fury—we face a choice. The embedded response is to validate our parents’ emotional attitude toward us as children by responding to our children in a similar way. The alternative is to reject that response and meet our child with empathy and compassion. Stated like this, the choice seems simple, but in practice, there is pressure to validate our parents and “finally understand how difficult it was for them.”

What is the best we could hope from our family and the worst...

The family of origin feels like a source for our need-fulfillment as adults. In much of the world, this is not true, but it often feels that way. In fact, a survivor’s family of origin may offer many things that seem important: 1) a circle of friends and social support; 2) a source of support in case of emergency (health, financial, etc.); 3) a familiar place to spend holiday gatherings (even if actual memories of these gatherings are miserable); 4) relationships with nieces and nephews; 5) help with a down-payment for a home; and 6) an inheritance (this may seem especially important if your adaptation to the abuse was to underachieve and sabotage your own personal success).

Parents confronted by their children have an opportunity. They can strive to make themselves worthy of the love that their child has always felt toward them. They can initiate their own process of self-discovery and recovery. They can spend as much time as needed listening to their child’s story and finally empathizing with them.

This would be a very painful process. The pain would include seeing and taking responsibility for the pain they inflicted on their children. But I think the larger pain would be facing their own inner pain from their childhood. This is what they were trying to keep buried as they repeated and normalized the cycle with their children. They could adopt a loving position toward their children and help end this recurring cycle in this generation.

In my experience, very few will do this. While they may make shifts in their behavior, they will not want to take the work of recovery seriously—not simply your recovery, but their own. They will not want to feel the pain of their own childhood. They will remain more loyal to their own parents than to their children.

The birth family will act as though the adult child in recovery is rejecting them. They will express the attitude that discussing the abuse at family gatherings is a hurtful and retaliatory act, especially when it “goes on for months and years.” Most survivors feel pressured to avoid discussing their abuse and asking for support with their recovery. The family members just do not want to hear it. After listening (sometimes sympathetically) to the telling of the story, they will shift toward an attitude that indicates the limits of their support and their open hostility. Statements like: “Let the past be in the past”, “haven’t you gotten past that?”, “he/she (the perpetrator) had a miserable life too”, “you need to become strong enough that it doesn’t bother you to be with them.”

In recovery, we find ourselves enriching our lives with loving friends and partners and having our own children. We resolve the pain we faced as children, wanting the loving mother, father, and family that we never had—the pain of knowing that it was hopeless and that we could never have that family. This brings into sharp relief the joy we can have as adults, building a rich life with others, learning to share love and intimacy.

We find friends who want to listen to us, take us seriously and share their own recovery. We should use these same standards when making decisions about relationships with our birth family members.

Does it make sense to forgive parents?

Forgiveness is a part of the process of repairing a reciprocal relationship. One person might rupture a friendship with their misdeeds. Both feel a loss with the rupture. If the guilty party were motivated to mend the rupture and reestablish the relationship, they would seek to make restitution and seek forgiveness. Forgiveness, in this case, would be the acknowledgement by the offended party that their friend, acquaintance, or business partner is sincere in valuing their relationship and has taken appropriate steps to make reparations. In forgiving, one feels confident in extending their trust and resuming their relationship and reciprocal exchange.

I believe that forgiveness is a concept that makes no sense when applied to children and their parents. The relationship between parents and children is not reciprocal. The gap between what survivors received as children and what they had every right to expect is immense. Even as we spend time with children and approach parenting our own children, it seems difficult to recognize that we deserved every bit of the love and attention that we offer the children in our own lives. The sense of loss and grief for our own lost childhood, as well as the anger felt for the way we were treated, surfaces as we dwell on this.

Even if they sincerely desire it, parents cannot undo the emotional damage suffered by their children. The adult survivor must do the work of recovery.

Parents view themselves as having made sacrifices for their children. Implicitly or explicitly, parents (and society) expect children to bear a burden of debt to their parents. I disagree with this. Being a parent is a privilege. But it is within the social attitude of children being indebted that forgiveness makes sense. It would be acknowledging the feeling of gratitude for the burdens that the parents endured. In addition, in the days when the family was necessary for survival, it would make sense in order to maintain the needed family unit.

The feelings of longing

Will the feelings of longing for the birth family ever recede? I believe they will. This longing is not really from the present. The longing is a memory of the way we felt as children. The longing today might best be visualized as the child, which we were, crying for someone to take care of them. And today, the only person who can listen to and comfort that child is the loving adult that we have become.

2. Poetry, Poetry and More Wonderful Poetry: Three Poems

Christmas Holiday

by James Daniel, Copyright 2001

From Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day
The old year kindly passed away.
Some joy from visiting relatives
Drinking, yelling, nonstop eating
A kitchen full of loud Italians
With starchy hair and gold medallions
Spaghetti with clams dug up from the beach
Cheap wine with ginger ale within my reach.

Strains of albinism staining the tablecloth
Card games my grandfather always would win
Gaudy lights, five-and-dime decorations
Cousin Dan laughing heartily pouring libations
I’d imagine life with my godparents
I’d imagine my parents driving over a bridge
I’d imagine this laughter all year round
As I put the leftovers into the fridge.

Christmas Day. Just clothes for presents
Clothes I think my mother should wear
For my own aesthetic taste she didn’t care
A green fiberglass tree, with green lights and green ornaments
In a turquoise home, what a strange color scheme
My mother never varied much from her theme
No books, no homework, a rare reprieve for me
Too bad Christmas had to come down before the next eve.

New Year’s Eve. Waiting for snow
Waiting on my neighbor, Tony Migliaccio
We’d set off firecrackers at passing cars
We’d stalk the neighborhood under the stars.
I’d write in my journal about the year past
Wishing this last week would not go so fast
For the new year ahead, a prayer for redemption
From desires for Tony too scary to mention.

New Year’s Day. The Rose Parade
Grandma baking lasagna
Telling me what she considers a sin
I in denial of school the next day
Looking through plastic candles in windows
Searching the sky for signs of snow
Falling asleep with these eight days of magic
And visions of Tony Migliaccio.

Stolen Daughters

by Kim A. Emerson-Santa, Copyright 2001

Anger seethes under the thread of their existence!
Youth lost in violence and hatred.
Youth abandoned in helplessness.
No solace for a stolen daughter.

A mother lost to madness.
Unable to stop the loss of her children’s innocence.
Unable to teach them about love and beauty in the world.
Only violence, molestation, and hatred reign.
From a man allowed to enter their lives.
A man brought up in violence and hatred.
A man brought up in ignorance and fear.

Anger seethes under the thread of their existence!
Time and memories, cruelty and frailty.
Hearts broken, minds bended.
Lives tormented.


Stolen daughters.
Stolen in ignorance.
Stolen in depravity.
Stolen in injustice.
Stolen in sin.

Stolen daughters.
Released from their internment in a living hell.
Released from the beast that tried to control their souls and existence.
Released to once again fly free in the world.
Released to the light.
Released to the beauty.
Released to find their way back to their family.
To love, to acceptance, to encouragement, to life.

Anger seethes under the thread of their existence.
For loss of dignity and self-worth in their youth.
For loss of the truth.
For loss of hope.
For loss of their mother.
For loss of their father.
For loss of their family.
For loss of their soul.

The Perfect House

by Cynthia L. Bryant, Copyright 2001

As we wander that old street
see row upon row of identical houses
our eyes fall on a house
not quite like all the others
Welcome to the home of my childhood

Best house on the block
freshly paint pale green
shutters and trim in emerald
Gaily bordered by purple pansies
Clean borders drawn by intricate iron fence

In the front yard
sways a gentle weeping willow
surrounded by lush manicured grass
Heavily scented yellow roses
Line either side, the unfettered pathway
that leads up to polished oak door

Now—go around to the back
open the door slowly
this fine day on the sly
Slink your way in
don’t start to cry
Crying is not allowed

Watch in silence
while mother’s lessons are taught—
“I’ll give you something to cry about!”
The family slogan driven home hard
“Children are to be seen, not heard”

Tinker Toys, teacups, Tiny Tears alike
left too long on their own
snatched up, tossed out with the trash
Toddlers thrown against walls with a thud
for beds unmade or pajamas on the floor
crimes worthy of corporal punishment

Lapses of bladder control reprimand
unrestrained flow stench of urine
cascading payback over guilty child

Bare bottoms beaten crimson
with whatever is handy
angry welts on the rise

Rebellion washed out with soap
From grimacing mouths gagging
bubbles of sickening slime

Tiny arms tracked by weeping blisters
Small perfect circles seared into flesh
for minor breaches

Late at night
if your already queasy stomach allows
hide in some corner
Watch as Daddy sneaks in
taking all the innocence he can hold
then tippy-toes back to his room
snoring his way through untroubled dreams
While his clean well-fed children
beg God for Heaven’s sake
to keep their souls
if they should die before they wake

Cynthia has just finished self-publishing her 5th chapbook of poetry, Dark Mother Living on the Borderline. It is a book filled with the unreality of being brought up by a borderline personality mother and an incestuous father. “The Perfect House” is one of the poems.

3. Possible Rotation C Topic:
Holiday Dynamics

Even in the best of times, the holiday season can be a challenge to one’s emotional life and sense of balance. The holiday experience can encompass hecticness and confusion, wonder and joy, sadness and resentment, lost perspective and lost opportunities. For many survivors of childhood abuse, the holiday season registers memories of pain, betrayal, abandonment, manipulation, etc. Many people feel depressed, lonely, overwhelmed, and just look forward to the holidays being over.

  1. What do the upcoming holidays rouse in you and mean for you?
  2. What have been successful strategies in the past for you in dealing with holidays?
  3. What do you need to do for yourself to manage the upcoming holidays?

4. ASCA Meeting Ongoing Education Moment:
What is the ASCA Meeting Guidebook on Our Website?

The ASCA Meeting Guidebook is located on our website at It provides discussion and guidance on various components that comprise the ASCA meeting format. Presently, there are 24 topics discussed. As a resource, it can be particularly helpful for co-facilitators. It can also be informative for ASCA participants, especially when confusion and/or disagreement surface concerning a particular dynamic of an ASCA meeting. We update and add to the material within the guidebook as members ask questions and request additional clarification on specific aspects of the ASCA meeting and on areas of the ASCA program in general.

5. Interview with Denise

by Vlado Bradbury

Interview: Vlado talking with Denise about the relationship with the “inner child”.

The “inner child” is an idea that is promoted by many therapists, particularly John Bradshaw. Our minds are filled with memories of childhood, often traumatic. These memories can be triggered at any moment by present events, and flood overwhelmingly into consciousness. These memories may include intense physical or emotional pain, or whole ways of being in the world or relating to people. We might feel just like a powerless terrified child. If we can recognize that these intense feelings have their origins in our childhoods, we have the opportunity to bring some adult wisdom, compassion and critical thinking to these unresolved memories and effect some soothing and resolution.

This vast store of memories from childhood (which I suggest is the “inner child”) can be a source of great joy as well as pain. Many adults get a youthful pleasure from childhood activities such as running, swimming, biking, going to movies, ice cream, drawing, being at the beach. Bradshaw would encourage us to cultivate a relationship with our inner child or children, to understand the fears and desires we find there. To know and understand the inner child, is to know one’s history. This enables us to act in an integrated manner on our own best behalf. This frees us from repeatedly recreating and re-experiencing the sufferings of our childhood.

Vlado: The way that you relate to your inner child has long impressed me. Red streaks in your hair, bright toenails, the youthful clothes that you wear—all these things tell me that she is present. You also hold down a serious job. Isn’t she inconvenient or embarrassing at times?

Denise: Oh yes, but at work I’m a teacher in a Montessori school, and they encourage creativity and self-expression, so that works out okay.

Vlado: What does your inner child do when you, the adult, is at work?

Denise: Because I teach little children, she is often present. When I’m working with a student, she may do the work too, draw or write. Also, when I am relating to my students in a respectful manner, she sees that and is comforted. She also gets angry if she thinks I’m treating students unfairly. Today, I had to separate two friends because they were making so much noise. She said that this was very unfair and I had to explain that I know it’s hard for young kids to be separated, but they were being too disruptive; and they were going to have to sit apart from each other for awhile till they settled down. In staff meetings, she gets to write in the margins of my pad, and she will tell me if anything or anyone is triggering her. I hear her, and explain that as soon the meeting is over, she can tell me all about it in the car, but for now I need to attend the meeting. She knows that I will do what I say. She trusts me, so this is usually enough, and she calms down. We talk later in the car.

Vlado: How do you soothe her?

Denise: Talking mostly. Today, that happened about five times. I spoke gently to her and reassured her. Then, there is writing in my journal—sometimes pages and pages of how a certain incident felt, the same words repeated again and again. At the end of the day, I check in with her to see how the day went for her—what was good, what was not. Last night, she told me that we scheduled too many things. We didn’t have any quiet time alone. Often, when we’re having a hard time, a nap is all we need. Then I realize, “No wonder I’m having a hard time. We did 12 stressful things today.” I also do the things that my mother did for me, to soothe me from the consequences of the rapes. That is when I’m in crisis. I will bundle up in bed with hot tea. I do this when I know memories are surfacing. This can be painful, as well as soothing. My child thinks that this means my mother was good. Then I have to break it to her that if my mother didn’t stand by while her husband was raping me, I would not need to be soothed. If my mother had protected me, there wouldn’t be this anxiety

Vlado: When you cry, who is it that is crying?

Denise: If there is screaming, sobbing or terror, then it is the child. If it’s a quiet tear that rolls down my cheek and there is mourning, grieving, amazement or gratitude, then it’s the adult.

Vlado: Do you have a hard time believing your child?

Denise: At times, I could not believe the incredible unspeakable things that she said happened. Then, my life would be hell, I would be filled with pain, intense anxiety and confusion. I would become paranoid, believing that people around me today hated me or were out to get me. Believing her became a very practical and pragmatic thing because when I said to her, “I believe you, tell me what happened,” then all the pain would go away. The confusion would go away. I would be left with the memory that might leave me incredulous, but the pain would be gone. That was all the proof I needed.

Vlado: What happens if you don’t parent your child?

Denise: That can happen really easily if I’m tired. She will start to tantrum, and if I don’t parent her, then I will look for a parent outside of myself. I will look to my partner or friends. I will imagine they are either my awful parents and I will pull for a fight, or I will imagine that they are my fantasized good parents and that they will take care of me. When they can’t or won’t look after me, then I hate them. Finally, I will get a handle on it and realize, “This is just too intense, this cannot be about the present,” and I begin to parent myself. Sometimes, I check with the person, “Did you shut the kitchen door because you’re trying to shut me out?” “No, I thought you might want to sleep some more,” replies my partner. Sometimes I have to apologize.

Vlado: What does your child want in her life?

Denise: She wants to be listened to and heard, and not just when there is a crisis, but everyday, she wants me to tell her that I can’t be pushed away, that I love her. She wants me to never listen to the “mother Maureen” that is inside my head—the perfectionistic terrifying hypochondriac.

Vlado: What do you the adult want?

Denise: I want peace. I want to live in the present with my partner, to have a good relationship with my partner. I want to go to the movies, sometimes. I want to have a family. I don’t need “excitement”; I had enough “excitement” in my childhood to last ten lifetimes. I want some peace.

Vlado: Your inner child did not ask for things, she asked that you love her. Are the things that your inner child does ask for—hairstyles, a bicycle or certain clothes—really just vehicles for her to see that you love her, that you are listening to her?

Denise: Objects and things are some of the ways that the love and respect are shown. In Montessori, it is believed that the only way you can raise a child is to get down on their level. You have to go to them. Bradshaw says that if you do that, they will grow up. The good parents that I see in my work, they make time to spend with their kids, they are attentive. Often, it is about making space for later. It is actually nowhere near as hard as my mother would have me believe.

Vlado: Thank you for doing this interview.

Denise: I really enjoyed it—my inner child, too. Can she tell you something? She wants you to write down three books that she found the absolutely most useful: The Courage to Heal, by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, which is for everyone—it’s about how to be human; The Obsidian Mirror, by Louise M. Wisechild; and Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child, by John Bradshaw. Thank you.

Selection editing note

Above, for clarity, the word “co-secretary” was replaced by “co-facilitator” as the current title used in ASCA meetings for the same role.