"Families are definitely the training ground for forgiveness. At some point you forgive the people in your family for being stuck together in all this weirdness, and when you can do that, you can learn to forgive anyone... Not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rats to die.” -- Anne Lamott
When you get triggered with your child, you automatically move into "fight or flight." It's hard to love unconditionally. Of course, your child might need you to set a clear, kind limit, but you'll do that better if you aren't seeing him as the enemy while you're doing it.
Often, we think it's our child's fault that we get triggered. But do you ever wonder when those triggers were built into your psyche? That's right -- during your own childhood. Those are your triggers, and life will keep triggering you until you heal them.
In addition to making us yell and shout, those triggers can affect our moods, creating low grade irritability and smoldering resentments that close off our hearts to the joy and love that are constantly available to us. If you want to liberate your heart to love unconditionally, you have to heal your old wounds.
Most of us didn't have perfect childhoods, even if we had parents who really loved us. Our parents, however well-intentioned, were products of their time, and most of us didn't get the message that we were wholly loved, human imperfections and all.
The problem is, if we still have sore spots from our childhoods, our kids trigger them -- just by being children. So -- and this is the hard part -- it’s time to move on. Stay with me here. I'm not asking you to call whoever hurt you and "forgive" them. In fact, you never need to speak to them again. This is not about them, at all.
This is about you. Because, as Anne Lamott says, drinking rat poison doesn't hurt the rats. Carrying around resentment poisons our hearts, keeps us from feeling loved, and changes the way we relate to our children, even when we don’t know it.
Here's the secret to healing. It's not about "forgiveness." The way past the anger is not "making up" with whoever wronged you.
The secret is being willing to accept that what happened did indeed happen, and feel the pain of what you suffered even when every part of you is screaming NO. To cry through it and comfort yourself. As Oprah says, "Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could have been any different."
Once you offer yourself that healing, you won’t need to hang onto the anger. Or the rat poison.
1. Find that small child who was you, and acknowledge his or her pain. Find some time alone. Sit quietly and fill yourself with love and well-being. Then look at a photo of yourself as a child, summon up all your compassion and embrace that little one. Keep holding yourself in love as you say and hear your childhood truth. "I felt unprotected .... unseen ... unloved ... hurt." Allow yourself to feel whatever is true for you without minimizing the pain. Hug yourself and breathe through it. Once you let yourself feel the pain -- in your own loving embrace -- you won't need to fend it off with your anger. Depending on the rawness of your wounds, you might need a loving "witness" with you to do this.
(For more support to do this inner work, please see the exercises in the Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Workbook.)
Once you've worked with Step One enough that your wounds feel less raw--and that could take months--find a time when you're feeling strong and move on to Step Two.
2. Put it in context. Now consider a different small child....The one who grew up to become your parent. Acknowledge what happened to that child. What wounded him? What hardened her heart?
I'm not saying that whatever happened to them justified their wounding you. I'm just asking you to notice: were their childhoods perfect? Your parents, or whoever hurt you, weren't born looking to hurt. They were simply humans who were hurt themselves, and maybe they weren't as courageous as you are about taking responsibility, so their pain spilled over onto you. (I know you're courageous, because you're doing this work.)
You have a right to be angry. But even if they failed you in ways that most of us would consider unforgivable, they were wounded themselves. You don't have to forgive them. But if you can see their woundedness, it's easier to move on. Remember, moving on is not for their benefit. It's for yours.
3. Move on. Express your willingness and intention to move toward healing. You might say something like "What you did was not ok. Every child deserves better. I deserved better. I ask for the grace to move on. Please help us all to heal. Thank you."
You might have to do this more than once, but I'm betting you'll feel lighter. Do you need to phrase it as asking for help? No, not at all. You might just be able to find that healing in your heart. But most of us need a little help from a deeper source of healing, whether you see that source as within you or without. And when we ask for help, somehow we make room for grace.
Just too hard to let go of what happened? We've all been there. That’s a defense against the pain. Your anger keeps that pain away -- by walling it up inside your heart. In our next post. we'll talk about how to heal those hurts so you can move on.
Today is Step Four of Ten Steps to Unconditional Love: Are You Drinking Rat Poison? Heal Your Childhood.
The first three steps were:
Want more? We're exploring each of the ten steps in more detail over the next few weeks. Join us for some heart stretches!