Forgiveness: Moving from Resistance to Emotional Healing
When I was growing up, I don’t remember anyone saying sorry to each other. Apologies would only happen when someone was looking for a quick fix to get out of trouble. I don’t think I ever truly said sorry and meant it. I don’t even think I understood the concept of forgiveness. I apologized because I wanted to get out of trouble and didn’t want the other person to be mad. I didn’t feel sorry; I just felt scared that someone would be upset with me.
The weight of unresolved resentments
I don’t remember my parents forgiving each other after a fight or any resolution. There was never a discussion of forgiveness, understanding, or compassion. Nor was there a discussion explaining or apologizing to my brother and me or each other. They just swept things under the rug and pretended as if nothing happened. I think it was just how things were done back then. Discussing emotions didn’t happen; they didn’t exist in the ’70s.
The impact of silence and inability to resolve
With each disagreement, resentments piled on, and the silence in our house became thicker and tenser. The uncertainty between my parents caused my brother and me significant fear and anxiety. We felt as though we didn’t have solid ground underneath us.
My brother and I were deeply impacted by my parents’ inability to forgive and effectively resolve conflict. We both have codependency patterns where we do whatever we can not to make someone angry. Over time we witnessed that if you make someone angry, tension and resentment lingers, and that trauma feels way worse than not being true to yourself.
Not being able to forgive or process resentment gets negatively stored in the human psyche. By suppressing our emotions, all sorts of behaviors and neurosis evolve with time, and most of the time, we don’t even know where it all came from.
What AA taught me about forgiveness
It wasn’t until I started going to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings and learning about the 12 steps that I began to grasp what forgiveness was all about. I learned that the process starts when you understand that you have a part in each resentment and each argument. In AA’s 4th step, you make a list of all your resentments and then go through a process where you analyze each resentment based on what it is in yourself that is triggered by whatever the resentment is about. When you understand that your reaction is your responsibility, you begin to develop humility and compassion for yourself and others for not always doing what is expected.
Most of our resentments are related to pride and fear. We can learn humility, and we can learn to trust, and we can see that others often struggle too with pride and fear. It’s just the human condition. Pride has to do with a simple survival defense: if we feel slighted, our pride is hurt, and we feel like we don’t matter. And if we dont matter, we don’t exist.
Once you recognize that you have a part in things and have some control over that, it’s a huge relief. Trust me
Understanding the importance of seeing my part
You have the choice to dig deep and admit that you have issues too. Each time I’ve finished a 4th step, my perception of how I react to the world has been brought forth into my awareness in such a way that great shifts have occurred each time. I have been able to forgive and accept my own messed-up-ness, and in that process, forgive others.
It is the acceptance of others’ humanness and having compassion
for their suffering by putting ourselves in their shoes. Out of the forgiveness
of others come self-forgiveness and the relief of guilt.
It is the acceptance of others’ humanness and having compassion for their suffering by putting ourselves in their shoes. Out of the forgiveness of others come self-forgiveness and the relief of guilt.
Marriage and family: resolution and understanding
My husband and I fight as all couples do. We never made an agreement to handle arguments the way we do, but we resolve and forgive each other almost right away. And now that our children are older, we always speak to them and explain afterward. My oldest daughter tends to hold on to emotions the longest, and that’s okay. I recognize that as part of her process. My little one typically forgets right away and says something like, “Mom and Dad are fine now!”
I think it’s important to clue children in on what is going on and not leave them hanging. The days of silent scorn and uncertain outcomes in arguments make children feel very fearful and unsafe. Commit to forgive rather than to be right. To forgive rather than to hold on. Being right and holding on serves no one.