Please understand one thing, we will never forget. Asking one to do so has the potential of doing more harm and causing more trauma. If I was to forget my past, two things can happen. First, if I forget where I came from, there is a strong propensity that I could end up back where I was. This is not to say that we look back and park ourself in the past. We look back to see how far we have come and what lessons we have learned. Secondly, the most important, if I were to forget my past, I would not be able to help the hundreds of people I have helped and continue to help. Remember that every person that has come across our path is a teacher and everything that we have been through or that has happened to us is a lesson. I take the lessons from my past, both good and bad and use them to help others.
So, let us take “You just need to forgive, forget, and move on” and break it down. We already know that we are removing the word forget from the equation. The reality is, that it is psychologically impossible for us to forget. We might have repressed our memories for a brief period of time. However, with proper counseling and the willingness to better understand one’s dysfunctional behaviors, those repressed memories can come to the surface. There are other biological factors to this as well that I will not discuss in this blog.
Let’s move on to the “F” word that just about every person I have worked with cringes at, Forgiveness. It can be easy to say the words “I forgive you,” but to truly forgive someone is a process and much deeper than mere words. There are so many mistaken beliefs about forgiveness which you can read about in Chapter 12 of my book Healing The Wounded Child Within. The reality is, being able to truly forgive is extremely difficult at best.
As I looked back on my own journey of forgiveness, I realize that for me to get to a place of forgiveness I first had to be taught some things. I had to learn and understand about certain things that happened to me and some of the reasons they happened to me. Yes, I even I had to learn and understand why my perpetrator likely did the things he did to me. It came to me while having a conversation with an associate on this topic that the key to forgiveness is learning. Thus, to soften the blow about the word forgiveness, let’s replace forgiveness with the word learning.
I look at every person that has crossed my path in life as a teacher. I look at everything that has happened to me as a lesson, both good and bad. The reality is that we are constantly learning, if we’re not then we can become emotionally and spiritually dead. For example, the homeless person that crosses your path at the precise moment you might be thinking that nothing is going right in your life. I’m constantly struggling to make ends meet. Why is life so hard? As he/she passes in front of you, suddenly you realize your life isn’t so bad after all. You walk away from the very brief encounter with an attitude of gratitude.
Being abused in the ways I was as a teenager; it was hard to see how there was anything for me to learn from my abuse. I’ll admit I in no way thought I had learned anything other than how to hate my mother, stepfather, pastor, the church, myself, and yes even God. The reality is, I was learning, I just did not know it. I was learning how not to be a parent and how not to raise my children. I was learning what a good pastor was and was not. I was learning what God was not. I was being taught and learning how to lie and deceive people. Please do not misunderstand me, I did learn a lot about love. However, it was from my biological father and his parents, my grandparents.
How does learning then apply to forgiveness? All of the negative things that I had learned had been taught to me by dysfunctional people. Dysfunctional parents, pastors, and siblings. I had to be untaught the negative. I had to learn how to look at life through a new pair of glasses. The way I did this was by working with some older and wiser mentors. I attended a twelve-step process as well as working with a competent therapist. As I worked through these steps which entailed deep soul searching, writing and conversations with my mentors, I was able to see what my part was in the harm done to me and to others by me. I saw how I allowed what happened to me to define me. I learned how all my character defects were developed. After all we are not just born with them. I want to be really clear on one thing, if you were abused in any way as a child, it is not your fault!
My therapist was my greatest teacher. She gently and patiently walked with me through all phases of my abuse. Emotional, physical, spiritual, and sexual. She helped me see how God in reality is loving, kind, caring, forgiving, and compassionate. She showed me by her actions rather than telling me. When it came to the emotional, physical and sexual abuse, applying the spiritual principle of forgiveness was much harder. No matter how gentle she was, she could not convince me to forgive my mother and stepfather. No way, no how! Then came the day that would change my life forever.
My therapist believed in the twelve-steps and was happy I was working them. I had finished my fifth step with my sponsor and immediately told my therapist. She proceeded to sit me down and said, “good, now we are going to talk about your stepfather.” I immediately put up all my walls, dug my heels in and said no way. Eventually I agreed as I knew she had never done anything that would harm me. As she started talking about my stepfather, she explained that is quite possible that he was abused as a child. I know that to be true today. I’m not going to go deep into it, basically we went on a journey about what his life must had been like. The hell he must have lived in as kid and the hell he is living in today. None of which condones what he had done to me. She told me that hurt people, hurt people. What this journey did was create empathy in me for him. Yes, I said empathy. I had finally fully forgiven both of my perpetrators. I walked out of my therapist office with the weight of the world lifted off of my shoulder. I was finally free.
Lastly let’s talk about moving on. Rather than moving on, let’s use the phrase giving back. After all what good is moving on going to do for us if all we do is sit back and live life as if we are the only ones with the problem. Becoming complacent will only take you to a place of discontentment or a possible emotional relapse. We must maintain our spiritual and emotional condition. Giving back in my opinion is the best we can do this. My wife and I have been giving back now for thirteen years and no amount of money has ever given us the joy, piece, and happiness that working with others does. Freely giving to them what was freely given to us. Yes, it is time to move on and live the life of your dreams that you so much deserve. Let’s not forget to give back along the way. You just never know who your story will help.
We must come to a place of forgiveness if we are ever to be truly free. Yes, we must and should move on to enjoy our lives. My wife and have had more fun and traveled the world since we both recovered. However, had either one of us been unwilling to look at ourselves and our character defects or been unwilling to learn a new way of seeing things, we would not be married. I am fully convinced, that the same would apply if we were not giving back. It is important however to find a balance in all of this. The next time someone tells you to forgive, forget, and move on, simply delete the forget and think to yourself – Learn and Give Back.