Post #62 – Women’s Memoirs, Author Conversations – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Memoir Author Speaks About Writing Her Memoir
Kendra Bonnet and I are pleased to welcome Katherine Mayfield to Women’s Memoirs. In her memoir, Katherine shares how she worked through emotional abuse and came out of the process a survivor and a thriver. We invited Katherine to tell something about the process of writing her story.
Here’s our first question:
Women’s Memoirs: 1. Katherine would you tell our readers about your decision to write a memoir.
There were at least three reasons I wanted to write The Box of Daughter: Overcoming a Legacy of Emotional Abuse. For more than seven years, I was the family caregiver for my parents when they were in their late eighties. My mother died in 2005, and my father passed away in 2008 at the age of 93. In the last six months of my father’s life, I lost 20 pounds from my already thin frame. After five decades of tolerating emotional abuse from my parents, I was totally burned out, physically emaciated, and on the verge of major illness.
Throughout the years I was caregiving, I met one person after another (usually women), who had very difficult relationships with their parents. So the first thing I wanted to achieve was to offer insight and hope to others in the same situation. I was amazed to discover how many families present a façade of politeness and perfection to the public, with abusive behavior raging behind closed doors. All of the dysfunction is hidden. When one is caregiving, it’s almost impossible to see the relationship with clarity, because you’re so focused on helping the person and assuaging the pain. You can’t really see the whole truth until after the caregiving experience is over. Until my parents were gone and I began to heal, my self-esteem fell so low it was almost nonexistent, and I didn’t really notice because I was so focused on helping them.
My second intention was to validate the life experiences of people who have been verbally or emotionally abused, and offer them insight and inspiration by writing about my own process of healing from the abuse and creating an authentic life. I was also very motivated to bring to public awareness the deep psychological wounding that can occur when a child is emotionally abused, because the abuse so often happens behind closed doors, and there is no physical “proof” like there is with physical or sexual abuse. The child grows up thinking that this stuff doesn’t happen to anyone else, that something is dreadfully wrong with him or her, and that it’s his or her fault. In essence, I wanted to open the conversation in society.
In some sense I felt “called” to write this book – I don’t know how else to explain it. I felt an imperative to write it, as if it was part of my life’s purpose to bring the book into physical reality to help heal some of the pain and anguish that so many people feel in our crazy world today.
Women’s Memoirs: 2. Once you decided to share your life story with others, what was the most challenging aspect of the memoir writing process?
The most challenging aspect for me was the process of reliving the old painful experiences deeply enough so I could write about them honestly. I didn’t want to just “complain,” and as a writer I believe that writing a scene brings the reader more fully into the writer’s personal experience than reflection does (although The Box of Daughter includes a fair amount of reflection). So, in order to write each scene, I had to dig deep into the memories and uncover not only the circumstances, but the through-line of my feelings as a child.
There were times in the writing process that I thought I was going to just lose it. Writing memoir is a tough balance between getting lost in the feelings and getting them on paper. You have to keep part of yourself outside the process, almost like a witness. It was a very cathartic process – but I would encourage anyone who’s going to write memoir to have someone help them work through feelings that surface as they write. That’s how I made it through.
Women’s Memoirs: 3. In what ways do you think writing your memoir changed you.
The most profound change I experienced was achieving clarity not only on my own self-image, but on the issues my parents faced as well. When I focused on writing with compassion, I began to understand that I couldn’t just blame my parents for my upbringing – they had issues of their own which intensely affected them. They were very good people in many ways, yet they were extremely unkind to their children, and used both my brother and me to meet emotional needs that weren’t getting met in their marital relationship.
As I delved into the memories, I uncovered the truth of my family, and I finally realized that the problem wasn’t that I was defective and incompetent, the problem was that I had been given so many negative messages as a child that I had learned to identify with them. As I became able to see the criticism and belittling for what it was, and not take the criticisms on as part of my identity, the layers of “self” that were not really me began to peel away. Then my self-esteem could grow to a normal level.
Women’s Memoirs: 4. Katherine, thanks for your responses. We have one last question for you? Do you have any advice you might give to other women wanting to write their memoirs?
Be prepared for surprises, and as Meredith Hall, author of Without a Map once told me, be absolutely honest. Don’t gloss over the rough spots, and go as deeply as you can. Our society is so much in need of truth and genuineness, especially in the arena of relationships. And make sure you have an outlet for the feelings that will come up.
I believe that the more we express our difficult feelings, the more clarity we gain about who we really are and what we want out of life. Writing and reading memoir can be a wonderful journey to truth, healing, and empowerment.
Women’s Memoirs: Thank you Katherine.
To the left, you will find a link for the Kindle version of Katherine’s book. If you are interested in a print version, it will be available in January 2012.