forgiving those who've hurt us

Who do you think you are? (Part One)


Many of us think we are who we are because of the things that have happened to us. We believe that if only our life situation were different, we might find more fulfillment. The truth is that no human life situation is fulfilling enough.

I remember as a child looking at other kids whose houses were big, or who lived in a better neighborhood, whose parents were nicer, whose dad didn’t die, who had more money, whose parents were friends with the right people. I was quite certain that I was unhappy as a result of the fact that I had fewer advantages than the other kids. When I sat down with these same kids twenty years later, I discovered that their families weren’t perfect either. They weren’t happy either. They had spent most of their adult lives seeking fulfillment, just like me.

I see now that that’s how the world works for the most part. We all think we suffer more than other people. We all think we’ve had it harder. We all feel like victims, and none of us ever quite feel like life is good enough. That’s because no matter how enviable a person’s life situation might look from the outside, on the inside, there is very little real satisfaction, and what there is is fleeting. Today there might not be a problem, but soon there will be, because that’s how life as a human works.

Some people base their entire lives around some unsatisfying incident that happened to them years ago. While it’s true that tragic things may have happened, you’re okay now. You survived. But the rest of your life is constructed around the horrible thing that happened to you in 1987. You may have built your entire identity around your painful story. How you see yourself, how you respond to other people, how you react to life, is all based on this one incident that happened years ago. The rest of your life is built around the pain of that incident.

This is a strategy of the mind. The painful memory is being used to create a stronger attachment to your identity as the victim of this one situation from your past. You missed out. You were mistreated. You didn’t get your chance. You didn’t have enough. Something went wrong, and it is keeping me from my happiness.

It’s a simple fact of life that people do hurtful things to each other. No matter how well intentioned they may be, as long as there is unconsciousness in humans, they will hurt each other. All children are harmed in some way. All relationships are sometimes painful. Yet we survive, and because we have survived, we have the ability to release the chains of past hurts and claim the life we have now.

When I was a young woman in college, I took the MMPI, the Minnesota Mutiphasic Personality Inventory. It’s a common tool used to identify potential problems. Because I went to private school, all freshman were required to take the test as a sort of screening process. We were far away from home, and the school wanted to uncover potential problems before they arose.

I wasn’t afraid to take the test. When I looked around at my friends, I saw that I was pretty even tempered and well balanced by comparison. Therefore, it surprised me when I was called in to the school counseling center to discuss an abnormality that showed up on my test.

“You have extreme bitterness against one of your parents,” the therapist told me. “Yeah? Well, she did this, and she did that, and then my dad died, and there was never enough this.” My explanation was thorough and justified. It was then that I received some of the best advice I have ever received. “You have a choice,” the therapist told me. “You can harbor this resentmentfor the rest of your life if you choose. You would certainly be justified in doing so. You could use this experience to limit your relationships, you could hold this bitterness and harness it for the rest of your days.” I could tell there was more.

“Or, you could take back your life. As long as you blame your mother for all your problems and let it color the rest of your life, she will always have control of your life. Is that what you want?”

“Absolutely not,” I answered.

“Then you can choose to take your life back, work on your relationship with your mother, try to understand what happened to you, and heal.”

I took his advice to heart. I told the truth to my college friends for the first time, sharing the things that had hurt me. We spent hour after hour processing the pain from our hurtful childhoods, (because in fact, we all had them.)

My relationship with my mother now is open, genuine, and healthy. I hold no resentment, and I see that she always loved me, and always did the very best she knew how, just as I did when raising my own child. It’s a human thing. We’re all flawed and we’re all intensely needy.

And there is only one way to reclaim your life after injury. Give up the suffering, and let the whole thing go.

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