Something that I'm being very intentional about until my next birthday (June) is healing from my childhood PTSD. Very long story short, I've endured just about any kind of abuse you can imagine growing up.
Add to that, parents — and grandparents and some aunts, uncles and cousins too — who were in the spotlight but also used religion as a way to not take full ownership for their actions and/or neglect; meaning, no matter what they did, they wanted me to focus more on forgiving and moving on than their need to take responsibility and make amends. What I realized is the trauma made me pretty co-dependent. It also caused me to continue to re-victimize myself by choosing friendships/relationships/situationships that reflected my childhood.
See, when you're a child, you love from such a pure and innocent place. You just want others to feel loved, so no matter what they do — good, bad or super ugly — you keep on loving them; even to the point of overcompensating in hopes that it will make them 1. feel loved 2. love you and/or 3. stop hurting you.
Next, you tend to keep repeating this pattern over and over again until you say to yourself, "OK, something isn't right." Then, rather than choosing more people who will harm you, you slow down, take a deep breath, and focus on healing so that you can learn what love really is and start selecting individuals to be in your life from that head and heart space.
As far as the healing process itself? As much as a lot of us may not want to accept this blaring reality, it does include forgiving those who caused us so much pain. Only, what I'm learning is just like a lot of people presented a jacked-up representation of love, they did the same thing when it comes to forgiveness.
As I've been working on forgiving from a healthier space, this is how I've learned how to forgive others — whether they take ownership for their actions or not:
Remember That We All Need It.
Being a marriage life coach has taught me A LOT about forgiveness. One of the main reasons why is because oftentimes when there are issues in a marriage, BOTH people have to accept some of the responsibility. That means both people have to be willing to humble themselves and forgive each other so that they can move forward.
I've had a lot of crap happen to me and I've done a lot of crap too. I accept that it's definitely arrogant and borderline dangerous to think that I deserve forgiveness while someone else doesn't. Or, someone should forgive me while I shouldn't forgive them.
Knowing that I'm gonna need to ask someone for forgiveness at some point makes it easier to be willing to give it to someone who asks.
After all, forgiving someone is simply not holding what someone did — or didn't do — against them. I certainly don't want a ton of folks holding things against me, so why not put good karma energy into the atmosphere? A bonus is I can put the emotional energy that it takes to stay mad at someone towards something far more beneficial and productive. Plus, it's proven that forgiveness is really good for my physical health and that's always a good thing.
Feel the Pain. Then Choose to Heal from It.
We're not designed to embrace pain. We're designed to embrace love. So when someone hurts us, it can be almost devastating to our being. Not allowing yourself to "feel that out" is not only unrealistic; it's unhealthy too. But again, you are made from love and designed to embrace love. While you didn't choose to have someone hurt you, you do have the power to choose to not let the pain consume you.
How do you get past the pain and on the road to healing? I'll tell you what I do. I spend a season (sometimes it's days, other times it's weeks) saying "I can't believe they did that!". Then I move into the season of "I didn't deserve that because I'm better than that". Then it's "What can I do to prevent that in the future?"
Once I get to that third question, healing starts to happen because no longer is my time, effort, and energy going into what someone else did. It's now focused on the lesson I can learn and how to set better boundaries.
When you stop looking at the wound and start looking for the lesson in the wound, you're well on the road to being able to forgive someone. Whether they are sorry for what they did — or not.
Accept That the Past Can’t Change.
Although I think author Gary Zukav is the originator of the quote, I remember hearing Oprah once define forgiveness as "Accepting that the past cannot change." Listen, if forgiveness has a foundation (other than God himself), this would be it.
No matter what someone did or how much they hurt you, no one can go back in time and change it. Yet, if a lot of us are honest with ourselves, that's what we can't get past — wishing that the "offender" did things differently from the beginning.
Once you get to a place of accepting that only the future has the ability to be different, that opens your heart up a bit more to at least considering giving someone who hurt you another chance — that is if they apologize, put forth concerted effort to right their wrongs, and ask for one.
Value Your Sanity More Than Their Offenses.
There's a conclusion I've come to as it relates to relationships where I'm doing more work than the other person is. If I'm keeping record of who's doing what, something is imbalanced.
What I mean by that is, when you're in a relationship (this includes a friendship) where both people are showing up, being emotionally available and giving, not only do you not need to keep tabs; it's almost impossible to. Oh, but when what they do is so far and few between that you can count 'em on one hand (give or take a few fingers), that's when you know the scales are off.
That said, there's a woman in my life who has been a taker since the beginning. If she needs something, she has no problem asking (and expecting). But if I need something, it's an inconvenience.
It used to piss me off to no end because 1. it's been years of this and 2. she never thinks she does anything wrong, including her feelings of entitlement. But one day, I said to myself, "While she's going on about her day without a care in the world, I'm over here mad as hell." Who do you think was winning?
Just recently, she did something that was SEL-FISH (like the deal-breaking kind). But for the first time since knowing her, I decided that my sanity was worth more than staying frustrated with her.
She's probably not gonna apologize but I forgive her anyway. My sanity needs me to.
Know That Forgiveness Is a Process.
A man by the name of Cedric Dent presented forgiveness in a very wise way. He said that if he tells someone a secret, they tell others but then come and ask him for forgiveness, and while he's going to forgive them, he's also not going to tell them anything (that he doesn't mind getting out) for a while.
His motive isn't spiteful or to "punish" the individual. What he said is, "Obviously confidentiality is a weakness for you, so I'm not gonna tempt you to hurt me and our relationship again by giving you more information." What this taught me is forgiveness is a process. Just because I "pardon an offense", that doesn't mean things are supposed to immediately go back to the way things were.
A wound needs time to heal. A scab is only the beginning. Relationships need time to heal. Forgiveness is only the beginning.
Here's the thing, though. If someone is truly remorseful, they will be patient, loving, and careful to not do the same offense during the healing process. If they're not sorry, then it's easier to see the weakness for what it is. And weak people who are too weak to choose to be humble enough to apologize? They are who we should truly feel sorry for.
I promise you, the stronger you get, the more you'll realize that if anyone needs forgiveness, it's them. I forgive you for being so unhealthy that you can't help but be toxic and do toxic things.
Oh, the irony of what forgiving someone who isn't sorry can do for your heart, your life, and your overall perspective on things. Try it. It's worth it.
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