“Forgiveness often comes with a humbling of the heart in which you’re okay with human imperfections.”
Forgiveness is a concern for at least 80% of my clients. There is so much written on the topic, I wasn’t sure where to begin. So, I decided to write about an ongoing personal experience.
I have never completely forgiven my father for not being there when and how I thought I needed him to be. My dad left when I was five years old, and divorced my mom when I was six. Growing up in New Jersey, he would rarely come to visit, and as I got older, I would occasionally visit him. From his early visits and outings as a child through my teens and 20’s, I viewed him as self-absorbed, disconnected and as someone who was checked out physically and emotionally. Over the years, the few words he spoke to me, were more often than not perceived by me as judgmental, critical, sarcastic and dismissive. Unfortunately, many of these attributes got carved into my personality. We often integrate the positive and negative attributes of our parents. In the case of my dad, I internalized his tendency to be sarcastic and critical.
Soon after getting married, I noticed myself talking to my wife in the same manner in which he spoke to me. I was quite judgmental. I did this by being dismissive, sarcastic, and critical – often sending her the same messages I received from my father. Fortunately, she is aware enough to understand what is happening, and simply calls me by my dad’s first name, Jack. Ouch! Her feedback made me realize quite clearly that my habit of being judgmental was negatively impacting the one I love the most. This is certainly not what I wanted for my marriage or any other relationship.
I soon realized that if I can forgive my father it would make space for the compassion and love that is always there. I discovered that it’s possible to let go of those judging and critical parts of myself. I do this by reframing the negative messages into more compassionate ones such as, “He was doing the best he could” and “At his essence, he is like all of us – trying to find his way” and “He is human and struggling like all of us.” As my wife, Debbie, always reminds me, what we believe, how we feel, and how we act, is a choice – and I can decide to respond in a way that is in alignment with who I want to be and who I truly am.
I decided to stop blaming my dad. I noticed that more I forgive him the more free I feel. As I forgive my dad, I no longer feel the need to project my negative feelings onto others. As I forgive my dad, I free up the love that my negative feelings blocked towards him, allowing my love to shine to all of those in my life, especially my wife, Debbie.
So, how can you forgive your parents (or anyone else) in a way that will unblock your love and allow it to shine through to those you most care about?
- Pick a parent or someone who you have not forgiven and identify what you are still angry about.
- Identify the suffering in yourself from still holding onto this lack of forgiveness.
- Start to realize that your suffering and lack of forgiveness is not in your own best interest. Feel the weight of not forgiving.
- Broaden your perspective by understanding that everyone is hurt in some way. See your parent or whoever hurt you as someone with there own struggles, doing the best they can to find their way through life.
Remember, forgiveness is a process that takes time. The more we forgive, the more space we allow for love to flow through us, to our spouse or partner, and to all those we care about in life. Remember that to forgive is to create the capacity to truly live as we are meant to; a life filled with love, joy and compassion.