The Blogging for Peace topic this month is ‘forgiveness‘ so I’m going to write about how I forgave my mom and what it did for me. The Bloggers 4 Peace badge is on the right hand side if you want to click on it to be a part of this new development.
I never thought I could forgive my mother for the abuse she’d inflicted on me when I was a child. The very idea of forgiveness used to upset me and make me irritated, if not defensive. I did try to embrace the concept at various times but they never took hold for me. Instead I’d just get more angry. How does one forgive someone when they won’t acknowledge their wrong doing and the hurtful impact it had on you? This is something I wrestled with for years. People I heard or read about forgiving people who’d done terrible things to them always baffled me. How did they manage to find it in their heart to let go of the anger, hurt and pain their abuser caused?
Well, as some of you know my mother died four years ago, that is when I started healing. The forgiveness though took longer. It wasn’t until she’d been dead for two years I could even imagine forgiving her in any imaginable way. So I meditated on my anger, hurt and sadness until I found compassion for MYSELF. Once I’d found compassion for myself I started to notice less anger inside of me. The indescribable feelings of rage toward my mother slowly started diminishing over the next year or so. Then there came a point when I noticed I didn’t feel anger or resentment toward my mother for what she’d done to me when I was a child. Nothing had changed from my past but in other ways everything had changed. My mother was dead and I had managed to develop a very real sense of compassion for both myself and my mother.
Not having my mother around anymore gave me perspective and freedom to take an objective view of my mother’s actions, including the severe abuses she’d suffered as a child herself for which she never got treatment for. I saw my mother as a child and imagined-then felt the fear she must have felt experiencing the abuse she experienced. None of this diminished my own abuse or suffering in any way but I felt empathy for my mother. She was a child once and didn’t deserve to be abused anymore than myself or another child. When I was able to actually put myself in my mother’s shoes I found it difficult to retain my anger and resentment I’d felt toward her. How could I HATE a person who had suffered so greatly that she developed severe dissociative symptoms, including widespread amnesia for events and things she did and said?
I fully understand how people will perhaps wonder why I forgave her and maybe think I let her off the ‘hook’ for her actions. But that isn’t what I did. I have not erased the memories of abuse I endured but I have learned to adjust my perspective. I’ve re-framed the narrative of abuse I had constructed around my mother and my suffering to include her own suffering along side mine. We both suffered. She had the theoretical ability to get treatment but in reality her ability to go through therapy would have been disrupted to a large extent by her pervasive amnesia around events in her life; as well as a widespread sense of mistrust toward authority figures. I had a large dose of mistrust toward authority figures also but managed to persevere with therapy for years until I felt a degree of relief.
We can’t compare ourselves to other people though. I’ve learned it does nobody any favours when we compare our experiences contending that because we were able to do xyz, thus so and so should also be able to do xyz. But we are all different and have so many variables between us that it’s unfair to say someone is less than us if they couldn’t do something we managed to do. We will never know 100% of what someone else’s life has been like so what gives us the right to think we can judge another person? Perhaps we can judge the behaviour but NOT the person themselves. That is not fair.
By holding onto the anger after we’ve been wronged by someone we are allowing them to continue wronging us. We’re giving up our personal power by holding onto our resentment over whatever someone did that hurt us. Maybe they will never apologize or think what they did was harmful. That means the onus is on us to release ourselves from the pain. No, we aren’t excusing the behaviour when forgiving or letting go of our less positive emotions toward someone. We’re simply allowing a space to emerge where we can view the situation with greater clarity. We can stop hanging onto everything negative connected to the action(s) of the abuser/wrong doer. When we let go of unwanted emotions we are giving ourselves a gift. The gift is emotional freedom. A great weight is lifted from our shoulders and we get to feel lighter from the inside out when we totally release ourselves from resentment, hurt, anger and sadness.
I felt that I had forgiven my mother last year, yet on the anniversary of her death in October I felt anger, and feelings of heaviness. It seems forgiveness hadn’t taken place totally. So I experienced a period of darkness for a month or two. Then I emerged feeling greater awareness and empathy for my mother. These feelings signaled to me I’d released myself totally from resentment. Prior to her anniversary I’d felt I had already forgiven her. I felt lighter and didn’t feel constantly angry when I thought about her. But I still held onto some rather natural and understandable anger considering the situation. This unsettled me but I explored the feelings and did my best to offer myself compassion for not being a Saint! It eventually worked as I gave up the need to be Mother Teresa and embraced my flaws. Three months into the new year I can honestly say I don’t feel resentful or angry toward my mother for her actions toward me. I think I needed to face the fact my mother wasn’t capable of being the mother I wanted her to be. She couldn’t even be close to it but I recognized she had strengths and qualities that were admirable. She wasn’t pure evil. Nobody is PURELY evil. Even dictators, fascists, and war lords have redeeming attributes if we overlook their immensely disturbing behaviours. My mother was never a dictator or fascist so she already had something positive going for her there!
There is much to be gained in the process of forgiveness. It is a process much like grief is. We are grieving a loss of sorts too when we accept we are unlikely to ever receive an apology for what was done to us. But if we can remind ourselves that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily have to involve letting the person who hurt us know we forgive them then it is not as bad. After all, who wants to tell someone they forgive them if the person doesn’t even care to acknowledge they hurt you somehow?
The only necessary step to forgiveness, in my opinion, is allowing yourself to be free. You don’t need to forget what was done to you either. I believe the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ is not terribly helpful in cases where you’ve been badly hurt by someone and they don’t apologize for it. Rather, what I see as forgiveness is letting go of negative emotions that keep you connected to the abuser/wrong doer. Having compassion for yourself and realizing you did everything you could at the time to avoid the mistreatment or abuse is helpful; or perhaps you need to forgive yourself if you feel you didn’t do everything you could have at the time. Again, have compassion for yourself. Once you find that deep well within yourself of compassion directed toward YOURSELF first and foremost, extending it to whomever hurt you will come much easier to you.
As with anything new to us forgiving will likely take time and not be accomplished tidily or quickly, that’s okay. Just continue being kind to yourself. Continue showing yourself the love and kindness you would your best friend or a small child or cherished furry companion when they’ve ‘messed up’. Forgiving is as much about us as it is the other person (s). We did not ask to be abused or hurt but we can choose to release ourselves from any lingering feelings of resentment, malice, or pain. Our abuse happened in the past-or if it’s still present in your life make every effort to remove yourself from the situation to the best of your ability, then let it stay there in the past. Forgiveness is not easy when it involves major traumas, heck sometimes it’s hard to forgive little things if we aren’t overly charitable! Nonetheless, it’s totally possible and does your mind a world of good. You’ll feel so much better once you have fully moved forward from the suffering. It will allow you to have more energy for more important areas of your life too once you aren’t consumed by your negative emotions.
Be gentle with yourself when you attempt forgiving someone for a past hurt. If you haven’t been able to get the response from them you hoped for it is your job to move on. Don’t allow someone to keep hurting you when you are away from the situation. Show yourself the loving kindness (compassion) you deserve and release yourself from the pain. Forgiveness is for you, as you are the one living with the hurt, the abuser likely feels nothing. Take your power back. Compassion grows the more we practice giving it to ourselves and others. Water the seeds of compassion and watch them grow.
©Natalya & Reflections On Life Thus Far, 2013.
- March Post for Peace (grandmalin.wordpress.com)
- Forgive But Can’t Forget (freebreakfastthursday.wordpress.com)
- Forgiveness is a 9-5 (thebayarean.com)
- March Post for Peace: Forgiveness (farawayinthesunshine.wordpress.com)