As long as I could remember, I had been angry with my mother both as a child and as an adult. Once I had a dream in which I was so angry at my mother that I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move. I opened my mouth to scream at her, and the words got stuck in my throat. Later in the dream I was talking to my father, and he told me that my mother was pregnant. I went into a rage. Then my mother appeared and I screamed at her, “You are going to do to another child what you did to me?” I was so angry I woke myself up.
One day, I went to my mother. I wanted to process my feelings about my childhood with her, so I asked her a lot of questions about what was going on in the family when I was young. Mom just stared at me. She didn’t want to talk about it. “I don’t remember,” she said. I was livid. Not only had she neglected me as a child, and exposed me to the parent who had abused her, now she was impending in my attempts to get better.
When I finally talked to my therapist about it, he said something interesting. He shrugged his shoulders and said sympathetically, “Oh, she couldn’t do it.” I stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that he didn’t say “she couldn’t do it.” He said she "wouldn’t do it.” What a difference a letter can make. I suddenly began looking at my mother in a brand-new light.
It took time, but eventually I changed my mind about my mother. I forgave her. A change in my feelings quickly followed. Then I started treating my mother differently. I changed. Our relationship changed.
There is no doubt that a spiritual path for me includes learning to love others unconditionally. Sometimes this means I have to forgive them first. It would be nice if this could happen quickly and simply, but this is not usually the case. Sometimes forgiveness is a slow process.
It would also be nice if forgiveness would just happen on its own. We can just give it some time. But usually some intervention must take place. In other words, we must work on it, sort of like tending a garden.
The process begins with a desire to forgive. Many factors may motivate this desire—none of them natural. Our natural inclination is to stay angry and hold a grudge. But, eventually, either misery gets the best of us and/or a deeply held belief system shakes loose the anger and gives way to a desire to forgive.
After the willingness comes, we then need some fancy footwork. One might begin by getting inside the head of the person or persons with whom we are angry. Was the transgression intentional or an accident? Was the transgressor suffering in some way for which we can be sympathetic? If the person with whom we are angry tells his side of the story what would he say?
It is important, at this point, to begin a discussion of the matter. The trick here is to listen to the people we discuss this with. We may not really want to hear an objective opinion, but it is important that we do. And even if our friends and/or pastor agrees with us that we are the injured party, it feels good to loosen that knot of anger chocking us to death by talking it out with someone we trust.
It can also be very helpful to write about all this emotional chaos. Writing can lead to some interesting “Freudian Slips” about the true nature of what happened and how we feel about it.
For the sake of argument, however, what if we are truly a victim and the person we are angry with has no leg to stand on? How then do we forgive? Well in this case we must simply try to look at the bright side. For instance, our perpetrator has to bear the weight of his transgression against us and we do not. (It might help, at this point, to mention that you do not have to like someone to forgive them or even associate with them. The dictionary definition of forgiveness is simply to let go of our anger. No hugs and kisses are required.)
The hardest part of forgiveness comes when we have to feel the “real” feelings behind what happened. Our anger is just a cover up for the pain brought on by the slight. The pain of rejection, the wound to our ego, the utter disappointment in this person, the fear that this will happen again.
The hardest part of forgiveness for me is to let go of the anger when the person who wounded me is in total denial about the whole thing. Recently my mother died. My sister who has BPD was angry at me for hovering over my mother on her deathbed. She said that my mother would not want me there because she did not like me. I was so wounded by this that I vowed never to speak to my sister again until she apologized.
But a year later I felt the pain of estrangement more than the pain of what she had said. So I was stuck between my anger and my loneliness for my sister. I also felt the tugging of my spiritual belief system which asks me to love others unconditionally?
So, eventually, I went through the process I describe above and came to the conclusion that forgiveness was important to my mental health and my salvation as a believer in love. So I swallowed my pride. I sent of a stiff email telling her that I was ready to move on without an apology. Immediately I felt as if a great burden had been lifted. I also felt like a better servant of my personal deity, which is no small matter to me.
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