For years, I foolishly held tight to hope that my stepmom would apologize for her affair.
Really, the apology wasn’t even about the the affair but about all of the pain that the affair caused.
And for a woman who touted herself as being one of the most honest and trustworthy people on the planet, and who as a result expected nothing less from me, I was honestly shocked that an apology wasn’t the first item on her post-affair to do list.
But instead of an apology she spent her time spinning, blaming and denying that she ever did anything wrong.
I’ve written before about the absurd and incredibly confusing conversation I once had with her where she compared her running off to Florida, to be with her Internet lover, the same as me leaving for college.
Regardless, I’m older and a bit wiser now, and even though I’ve moved past the possibility of an apology, I can’t say that there wasn’t a time when not getting that apology from her didn’t piss me off.
Even though the details of our stories may differ, if you can relate to having a parent that has yet to acknowledge or apologize for the hurt they caused you – this post was created for you.
Today I’m going to share how I used the concept of an Enlightened Witness to release the pain, disappointment and anger I carried for years while waiting for the apology I thought I needed to find peace.
The concept comes directly from one of my all time favorite books, Alice Miller’s Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries. One that I highly recommend!
Once you’ve finished reading, I’d love to hear from you.
In the comment section tell me how you can use the concept of an Enlightened Witness in your life as it applies to your life.
Remember, your voice, experiences and insights are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Thank you so much for reading each and every week!
Until next Tuesday,
P.S. If you know someone that’s looking for a way to find peace without an apology, share this post with them. It may just be the answer they’re looking for.
Who Or What Is An Enlightened Witness?
Alice Miller, author of the book Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries, originated the idea of an Enlightened Witness (EW).
Basically, an EW is someone who fully acknowledges and validates your pain and suffering without objection, skepticism or debate.
Now. In a minute I’ll explain a little more about what I mean when I say – without objection, skepticism and debate but first I want to focus on the qualities that make an EW so special.
So if you were looking to hire someone to be an EW you’d want someone who:
- Is trustworthy
- Capable of empathy
- Is a good listener
- You feel safe with
- Takes you and your experiences seriously
An EW isn’t necessarily someone that you’re going to go out and hire but it is someone in your life that you choose to share the details of your most painful and disappointing moments with.
All that the EW does, through the act of listening, is empathize and as a result they witness what you’ve gone through and how those experiences have impacted your life.
In order for the EW to be effective they have to be able to give you space to tell your story without fear of objection, skepticism or debate. Why? Because the whole point of an EW is to have that person validate your experience. Someone has heard your story, they have witnessed your pain and most importantly, they believe you.
It’s through this validation process that you can experience healing and peace of mind without an apology.
My First Enlightened Witness
My first EW was my husband, Ryan.
As we got to know each other, while we were dating, I slowly revealed details about my family. Eventually, I shared with him what happened with my stepmom. And how over the years she became increasingly mentally and emotionally abusive and how all of that led up to her affair.
I remember the first time I shared with him how disappointed and angry I was over the fact that, despite several opportunities to do so, my stepmom never once apologized or attempted to take responsibility for what she’d done.
Instead of making excuses for my stepmom or trying to talk me out of the way I felt, Ryan just listened and when I was done he looked at me and said, “I’m sorry you went through that. You deserve an apology.”
Now, you have to understand that this wasn’t the kind of response that I was used to getting. I became so used to my family either not wanting to listen or just glazing over my experience with comments like, “Oh well she did the best that she could.” Or “It made you who you are today,” that I never felt heard or validated. And this of course only fed my frustration and anger.
But because Ryan was able and willing to listen and empathize with me and not judge or try to explain away my experience, I was able to release my need for an apology from her. I finally got the validation I needed and my experience got the respect and attention it deserved.
For the first time in my life, outside of professional therapy, I felt heard by someone I trusted.
To reap the biggest benefits when sharing with an EW, Alice Miller suggests you focus on:
- Describing your situation
- Experiencing and expressing any emotions that come up for you
- Talking about what you needed then and what you need now
And I would add to that that you don’t hold back or censor yourself!
Where To Find Your Witness
Alice Miller suggests that an EW is someone that can listen and witness your experience without judgement.
This person could also be your spouse, a grandparent, a co-worker or a close friend, social worker or therapist. It can be anyone that you share a mutual trust and respect with. And most importantly, you want to be sure that this person has the ability to empathize and a willingness to listen without judgement.
From experience, I’ll tell you that you’ll know rather quickly whether or not someone is a good fit. For example, in the past, I’ve made the mistake plenty of times where I’ve shared details with someone about my past hoping to receive understanding in return. And I quickly learned how painful it can be when you discover that this person doesn’t believe what you’ve told them or the gravity of your situation just goes over their head.
Either way, try not to beat yourself up over it or dwell on it. Always remember, that they’re reaction or lack thereof says more about them then it does about you.
And if you’re at a point in your life right now where you don’t feel you have someone you can enlist as your EW, it’s not a problem. Your witness could be your journal. You can even record yourself sharing your story on an old school tape recorder or even your phone. If you go this route, just make sure you keep the recording safe.
Another great way to reap the benefits of an EW, indirectly, is through writing. And if you’re feeling bold enough about it, you could even try to get that writing published. Or you could even start your own blog.
In this post I gave an example of how I found peace without an apology from my stepmom through my EW, my husband. But I’ve also written about other issues I’ve had with my family and through publishing those pieces and sharing them with a larger audience, I’ve also experienced a form of validation and even relief. And if you’re not comfortable having something published under your own name, don’t worry, you can just make one up! I have several writer friends that do it all the time.
Regardless, I hope through today’s post you’ve learned that it is possible to lay your frustration, disappointment and anger to rest over an apology you never received though the help of an EW.
If you’d like to learn more, make sure you pick up a copy of Alice Miller’s book, Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries. And if you’d like a shorter article to read about the EW and how Alice Miller came to discover this idea, click here.
And of course if you have any questions, you can leave them in the comment section.