A child's life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark. ~ Chinese Proverb Click To Tweet
When you think about your parents, or the people who raised you, what comes to mind? Do you feel a sense of peace and well-being that they taught you to be an upstanding person? Or do you feel a twinge of guilt or resentment for them? Perhaps you feel very angry for the subtle or not-so-subtle infringements on your personhood they imposed throughout the years. For some people, there may be feelings of distress over abandonment.
All of these feelings are to be expected, depending on what sort of childhood you had growing up. All parents and/or caregivers instill their conscious and subconscious beliefs into their children. This is completely natural. It is also natural for you to feel the way you do, depending on the sort of childhood you had. However, there must come a time for maturity to take over and help you learn from their mistakes, so that you can be the person you were meant to be.
To do this, you must take some steps to completely free yourself from the feelings you have been harboring all these years. Depending on how old you are, you may have a large amount of resentment that has progressively built up. Not to worry though, because forgiveness is not based on the quantity of missteps your parents made. Rather, it is up to you to work at it as a batch effort. After all, what is the point of forgiving for one thing, but clinging to the negativity of another?
The First Step is to Recognize Your Feelings.
This is easier said than done. When you stop to take the time to think about everything you feel resentful over, it comes naturally to be aware of your negative feelings. It is in practice, however, in the heat of the moment, when the real challenge comes along. But before we skip ahead to that task, let’s begin with simple awareness.
One way to do this without letting it become overwhelming, especially if you have/had particularly negative parents who attempted to crush your spirit, is to write everything down. Every single infraction or offense that was ever performed against you, even the tiny ones– get them out onto a piece of paper. You can type it or write it, although writing is often more therapeutic because if you find yourself getting angry, you can change the font more naturally than with a computer.
Next, take a separate piece of paper (or document on your computer) and record all of the wonderful, amazing things they helped you to accomplish in life. Even if that list seems very short in comparison to the negative list, there will still be some hidden jewels in there that you may not have recognized previously. For example, if your parents did not help you when you wanted or needed them to, you can turn it around and write down that they helped you to become a stronger person. They didn’t buy you a car when you were 16 and you had to work to buy one for yourself? They taught you self-reliance. They also supported you while you worked to earn the money for that car too, didn’t they?
The Second Step is to Forgive.
This may seem counterintuitive, because very likely, you will not be prepared to forgive them just yet. You will likely want to stew after being reminded about all of those awful things they did to screw up your life. This is your ego kicking in to remind you that you deserved better! Didn’t you? Well, yes, you probably did deserve better, but that’s not what this is about. This is about moving on and becoming a happier and stronger person.
If that is what you really want, you must forgive before you feel like you are ready. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you may never forgive and will continue holding on to those negative feelings. Forgiveness comes first, and the feelings of compassion will follow.
The Third Step is to Move On.
The list of your angry and sad feelings is a physical manifestation of what you need to forgive. Once you have accepted that you are ready to forgive, write at the bottom of the first list, “I forgive you.” Now, it is time to destroy the first list.
This can be done in any number of ways, but burning is probably the best method. This is because it is representative of destroying something to create something new. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, you will rise again as a renewed, happier person. Next, it’s time to write, “Thank you” or “I am grateful” at the top of the second list.
This second list is your reminder of all that you have to be grateful for. Even the perceived slights against you that made you the person you are today are reasons to show gratitude. We cannot be who we are without the experiences we have. The remaining, positive things that have helped us along the way are all the more reason for us to be appreciative. Not because we are happy about our lives in comparison to others, but merely for the blessings that have been bestowed upon us. This is not a contest.
Getting back to the difficulty of being reminded of old pains, especially in the middle of a conversation, your task is to reflect upon this second list. Try to memorize one or two main things your parents have done for you in life that will help you remember that you have forgiven them. If you can keep your focus on the good things they have done, you will eventually begin to focus primarily on that instead of the negative list that you destroyed.
Now, You Are Ready to Forgive Yourself.
To forgive oneself without forgiving one’s parents first is a nearly insurmountable task. This is because our parents and caregivers are part of who we are. Even if you had a poor relationship with your stepmother, she is still part of the sum total that is you. Whether you find her behaviors obnoxious or abhorrent, you will soon discover that there are parts of her reflected in yourself. That is what happens when people raise you; they affect who you become.
So now it is time to take these steps and apply them to your own life. What have you done that you cannot forgive yourself for? Have you hurt someone in the past? Have you acted in a way that you are not proud of? It is not necessary for you to apologize to those you have harmed unless you believe it would benefit both of you. If it will cause harm, do not bring it up. Sometimes, it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. However, that does not mean you must continue to suffer. Go ahead, take these same steps and forgive yourself. Soon, you will see that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
“The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.” ~ Alden Nowlan