Forgiveness: What about reconciliation?

“Forgiving you means I will no longer dwell on what a giant asshole you are. It doesn’t mean you are no longer a giant asshole.”

Forgiveness, at its core, is meant to be relational and restorative. That is the ultimate goal. However, it does not always result in reconciliation. We forgive someone for harming us in order to be free from bitterness that gives the other person emotional power over us. I often say to clients, “Don’t let the person who harmed you rent space in your head or your life.”

When is it possible for forgiveness to be relational and restorative? When the person who harmed you is able to acknowledge his or her abusive behavior, repent from it and change their behavior toward you.

Repentance has historically been a spiritual concept but I think it is an integral part of any forgiveness and reconciliation process.

What does repentance mean?

The Greek word for repentance is Metanoia: a changing of the mind. I heard someone once say, “A change of mind such that the person turns 180 degrees and begins walking in a completely new direction. Or, in other words, the person realizes they are a giant asshole and they want to become NOT an asshole.

If an abuser (aka giant asshole) is unable to repent and change, you can be guaranteed the person will abuse you again if you stay in relationship with them.

My story (and quite possibly yours as well)

In my family, you were expected to “forgive and forget.” Reconciliation and restoration of relationship were not contingent upon anyone’s bad behavior changing. I was taught that if truly forgave my family for the shit they did to me, I would visit them, have meals with them and be a good and loving daughter and sister. I tried to do this. Really, I did.

Here is the rub with this scenario of forgiveness. My family kept pulling the same shit time and again. I set boundaries; they ignored them. I asked for apologies for the abuse they heaped upon my head and body and emotions; they looked at me like I had three heads.

They didn’t think that their behavior needed to change and saw no need to apologize for it; they simply wanted me to be okay with it.

The problem, I finally realized, was not that I couldn’t forgive. The real problem was that they would not change their abusive behavior. They did not see a need to apologize; they simply wanted me to accept their abusive behavior. And that, in the end, I could not do.

Muddy boots and white carpets: An illustration

I heard a powerful story once that has stayed with me: You don’t have to allow someone with muddy boots to come into your home and walk on your white carpet. It is okay to ask a person to remove their stinky, mucky boots before entering. If they won’t, you can offer to step onto the porch and chat there.

If they are offended and try to persuade you to allow them into your clean house with clean carpets, you can say, gently but firmly, “No.”

And if they try to force their way in, you can go inside and lock the door. The problem is not your lack of courtesy; the problem is their unwillingness to remove their filthy boots.

Translation of this little parable: If they won’t repent (remove their muddy boots) then you can’t truly reconcile.

What to do if you are struggling with people who are abusive

Don’t confuse forgiveness with accepting abusive behavior. You can let go of bitterness without going back into an abusive relationship.

Be firm with anyone who wants to be in your life that they need to be able to acknowledge when they are acting like a giant asshole (you know all of us have our moments) and they can genuinely apologize and try to do things differently in relationship with you.

Don’t let the word “family” equal “I must accept whatever they do to me to keep the family together.” You don’t have to accept abuse FROM ANYONE.

Remember the “r”s: repentance leads to reconciliation and restoration of relationship.

 

Photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

 

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“It’s pretty terrible but it’s free.” Quote from the campground host where we stayed last weekend.

My husband and I finally decided to go camping and fly-fishing last weekend. We made a decision on campground based on where we wanted to fish (spoiler alert: Our first mistake); away from the Front Range but not so far that it would be totally dark when we were setting up camp. Our target for fishing: Williams Fork river. Nearest campground: Williams Fork reservoir campground.

We happily packed our car, looking forward to enjoying all the Colorado high country has to offer and getting away from hot, hazy Denver. We drove up and over Berthoud pass, smiling as we watched the temperature drop on our car’s display. Through Winter Park and Granby we went, then through Hot Sulphur Springs. The terrain began to change and we saw lots of scrub. Trees became non-existent as we left the main highway; I wondered at that point what our campground might look like. I hadn’t done much research on the campground but the river scenery looked beautiful so I assumed the campground would be the same. (Second mistake. Never assume anything when dealing with Colorado.)

Desolate. It only takes one word to describe what we saw as we pulled into the campground. My heart sank. I could not believe that a campground in Colorado would have no trees. Not. One. Tree. Dirt, grass and scrub. The reservoir was low and looked so sad. The tallest things in camp were the pit toilets. We checked in with the camp host; you’ve already read her review of the campground.

We decided to soldier on and we set up camp. (Mistake three: If something seems terrible, run away. We did not.) Needless to say things went downhill from there. The first night rain and some wind; I only had to replant one stake in the rain thank goodness. The next day we hiked to the river and it was indeed gorgeous. We saw a moose and a couple of otters and I almost caught a 15” rainbow trout. My only bite in 8 hours but hey I got to struggle with him and it was fun.

That night…gale force winds, rain, sleet and cold. The tent was bent in so far that the ceiling touched me as I was laying in my sleeping bag. I asked my husband if we could go home but he got out and pulled the car in front of the tent and we made it through the night. In the morning we decided to just pack up our soggy tent and go into Silverthorne for breakfast. Then home and trying to dry everything out before putting the camping gear away.

The moral of this story: If someone tells you something is terrible but free, LISTEN TO HER! We are laughing about the experience now and will probably always use the quote from our camp host when we are presented with something that is “free.” Free always comes at a cost. We definitely paid for our campsite; the currency was not dollars but anxiety, lost sleep and disappointment. To my dear hubby: Next time I promise I will do a better job picking a campsite!

Note: This post is motivated, in part, by the weekly Wednesday challenge from H&L Writes, a group dedicated to helping people grow in their writing skills.

Photo by adrian on Unsplash

Parenting from the inside out

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When we have a baby we are overwhelmed with joy and the desire to make our tiny human happy. We want to be a great parent and most days we are more than good enough. But there are times when we are overwhelmed, stressed out and want to quit or throw our child through the nearest window. Side note: If you are a parent and have not occasionally thought about throwing your child through a window, feel free to stop reading now because obviously you have the parenting thing down. If you have, however, had these homicidal thoughts from time to time, read on.

So, what do we do when we are at the end of our proverbial rope? I would like to propose we parent from the inside out. This is not just about doing yoga or mindfulness exercises to calm down. What I’m talking about is the most difficult part of parenting; parenting ourselves.

First let’s look at what we do when our children are upset. When our child is upset we wonder “why?” We become curious and compassionate (uh, unless we are at the “throw them through the window” stage). Are they hungry? Are they tired? Do they have gas and need to poop? When we discover what is going on we try to meet them at their point of need and relieve their suffering. This is love.

But what about when we are unraveling emotionally and we want to scream at our children because we have nothing left? What about when we hear a voice inside our head asking: “What about me? Doesn’t she realize that this is too much for me? Can’t she just stop crying and give me some space?” We don’t usually have compassion for ourselves. We feel guilty and we try to squash that voice. We say, “I just need you to shut up so I can be a good mom or dad.” We often gut it out in the moment but we feel totally exhausted. Why? Because we have parts inside us that may be hurting and need attention. We need to be a good parent to ourselves.

What does it mean to be a good parent to ourselves? It means becoming aware of parts that say, “I need you.” “I’m hurting.” “I feel so alone.” “Please pay attention to me.” Once we are aware of these parts, we need to become compassionate and curious, just as we are with our children. Instead of telling them to shut up, what if we spend a little time with them? What if we try to be with them in the way that they need? We would never tell our child to shut up when they are hungry or tired, why do we think it will be effective with our internal child?

When you are emotionally exhausted and feeling overwhelmed let me encourage you to take a moment and go inside of yourself. Ask the quiet question, “What do you want me to know?” and allow your inner child to speak to you. You will find, I’m 100% sure, that she will tell you how she feels and what she needs. And when you meet her needs she will settle and you will not feel like tossing your tiny human through a window.

All my best,

Barb

derek-thomson-528266-unsplash photo credit

 

Three Fundamental Components of a Meaningful Apology

It would be great if all our mistakes could be erased with an apology as easily as a Tide To Go Pen erases stains on clothing. However, this is not how “I’m sorry” works. There are three steps, also known as three Rs, to making an apology count.

When we hurt someone, we need to accept responsibility, repair the break, and restore connection.

Responsibility

First, we must accept responsibility. Accepting responsibility for our screw-ups takes courage. It is risky and vulnerable; we have to listen to the pain of the other person.

The number one factor in this step is losing the “but” at the end of “I’m sorry.” When we say, “I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t made me mad,” we are putting responsibility for our failure on the shoulders of the other person.

Instead, say something like this, “I messed up and hurt you. I understand I shouldn’t have yelled and I’m sorry.” This demonstrates that we are owning our failure.

We need to admit we were wrong and express that our behavior was hurtful to the other person if we are going to accept responsibility.

Repair

Next, we must take steps to repair. Ask questions like, “What can I do to make things right?” This is the heart and soul of repair and it involves work on our part.

It would be much easier to ask the other person to forgive and forget but, again, unlike a Tide To Go Pen, people don’t forget that we’ve hurt them-the pain lingers and stains our relationship.

In the repair stage, we need to ask the other person what can be done to help decrease their pain. Usually this involves a commitment to changing our behavior and giving the other person permission to call us out if it happens again.

Restore

The final step of making a meaningful apology is to restore connection. Restoring connection is a process and it takes time to re-establish trust.

We need to give the other person time to feel safe in the relationship again and this may mean further discussion around what happened.

I’ll caution you that saying things like, “Why are you still bringing this up?” is a sure-fire way to delay the restoration process.

Listen to the other person with empathy and compassion for the pain they’ve experienced as this will help them feel heard and understood. Feeling heard and understood will lead to a softening and restored connection will follow.

The 3 Rs of “I’m sorry”

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When we spill ugliness on the people we love, it takes effort to make the stain go away. We must remember and practice the three Rs by accepting responsibility for our actions, repairing the break we’ve caused and restoring connection with our loved one.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you suspect or know you have hurt someone, try implementing the three Rs and see how it enables you to shift your interaction and deepen your relationship.

All my best,

Barb

If you have any questions or are curious to learn more about increasing connection and joy in your relationships, please feel free to contact me.

 

Photo credit: Photo by Andre Revilo on Unsplash

 

Sheltering in place in a violent home

In the past year there have been at least two situations in my hometown of Denver that called for people to shelter in place because the situation in their neighborhood was dangerous. Sheltering in place is defined as staying in your home and locking your doors during a violent situation. First responders descend on the scene and work to contain the violence. When the violent situation is over a notification is given that it is safe to unlock your doors and resume normal activities.

But what if the violence is inside your home? As the oldest of four children, I designated myself as the first responder in our home. I helped my siblings learn how to shelter in place when I could sense the atmosphere was beginning to feel and smell dangerous. I could sense electricity in the air and I knew that my parents would soon explode and hurt each other. Before they uttered a word I knew we needed to hunker down in our rooms in silence. In violent homes, sheltering in place in your bedroom can mean survival.

And then, what if violence finds you no matter how much you retreat and sit in silence? How do we shelter in place when there is an assault of our very person in the form of verbal, physical or sexual abuse? I learned to shelter in place through internal silence and retreat. I created rooms inside myself that my family members couldn’t enter. Sometimes even that wasn’t enough and I retreated to a place outside my body. I could watch what was happening without having to feel the pain in my body. I sheltered in place by psychologically separating from my body and hovering on the ceiling of my room. Now that I am a therapist I know the clinical term for this is dissociation. These are the places where no one can touch our souls.

Our survival instincts are so strong that our psyches will help us shelter in place, no matter how that has to be done. I am so grateful to my system for creating places of safety and I am grateful that I’ve been able to sound the all clear in my adult life and come out of my shelters. I am grateful that I have been able to create a life that is safe and happy. And I’m very grateful that I am a therapist who can help others understand their own shelters and how to come out of them and feel safe.

Sleepwalker

My husband texted me this morning and asked if I had been sleepwalking last night. My response, “Uh, maybe?” Then, “I don’t remember.” He let me know he woke up this morning to find the back door open and “remnants of a cheese/cracker session.” Oh boy. Good thing he didn’t also find a half empty wine bottle!

As a child I was a chronic sleepwalker. My parents would laugh as they told me where they would find me at night and how they had to walk me back to my bedroom. Sometimes they would wake me up for fun but that is another story. It is a rare occurrence now but every so often I will wander the house and then find my way back to bed. If my husband wakes up and finds me he will guide me back to bed.

Though my nighttime wandering is fairly harmless (Well I guess the back door being open is somewhat concerning), this episode did cause me to begin thinking about ways I wander aimlessly during the daytime hours. I wonder how much of my time is spent emotionally sleepwalking, still functioning but without a full awareness of what I’m doing or the world around me.

Spending time mindlessly cruising through social media sites, eating but not really tasting my food, being in a conversation with someone and afterward remembering almost nothing from the interaction (sorry friends), and mechanically going about daily tasks without being fully present are just a few of the ways I know I sleep walk during the daytime. I don’t include zoning out on the way home because, well, duh, who wants to be aware of how agonizing it is to drive 5 miles an hour on the highway?

So why do I sleep walk during the day? And, do any of you find yourselves in a half awake/half asleep state during the day? I know that stress can play a role in this detachment; when I’m at capacity at work, there is just no way my brain can continue engaging and I check out mentally and emotionally. When this happens, I often realize I need to adjust my self-care plan to restore my sanity.

But, when stress is not so much the cause, then what? I mean, I say I want to live aware of my surroundings and engage with people intentionally. I think I want to fully feel joy and pain and that I want to touch, and smell and taste things. So what gives?

Here’s my confession; fully experiencing life means being open and vulnerable. That scares the shit out of me. And so I sleep walk during the day. Sleepwalking during the night kind of woke me up-no pun intended- and helped me realize that I really do want this to change. So, today I’m going to commit to tasting the salad I know I’m going to have for lunch and when I go to a social gathering tonight, I’m going to do my best to listen and respond genuinely. I will commit to being open to whatever life brings me today without going walkabout in a fog.

And hopefully tonight I will stay in bed and not take a stroll through the neighborhood. But if I do and you encounter me in my pjs, just lead me back home, knock on the door, my husband will take it from there. All I ask is, don’t laugh at my pjs.

p.s. I am a part of Holl and Lane Writes, which is a community of writers. This post is partly a response to the “Wednesday Challenge” to share something we’ve written in the past week.

Photo by Max Lakutin on Unsplash

Tick Tock Time: A Cautionary Tale

He is fighting against time. Time is winning. Bad knees, a heart problem, hearing aids, Parkinson’s. He is losing physical strength as he ages and this means a loss of control. He has relied on control all his life.

He started two well-known businesses and then, after selling them upon retirement, mentored young entrepreneurs. They adored him and he reveled in their adoration. Success was his goal in every area of his life and he thought he had achieved it. He believed in himself and trusted his abilities to perform at the highest levels in both his professional life and his personal life.

In all this, he performed a great sleight of hand on himself, the perception that he was in control of everything. Now time has found out his trick and revealed it to him. He is not able to control everything. It is an incredible shock. He is angry about this revelation and tells everyone he knows, “Don’t ever get old, it is terrible.”

As he faces this loss of control, his anxiety increases. And it increases in direct proportion to the shame he feels about his weakness. Others are doing tasks that he previously mastered with ease because he cannot accomplish them efficiently, if at all. When they don’t do things to his satisfaction, he tries to take back control by telling them what to do. His family struggles to balance respect for him as a man with the need to do things for him. This is frustrating, especially when he resorts to bullying them, and they sometimes find impatience wins out over graciousness.

As his knees continue to limit him and his Parkinson’s progresses, he will soon be unable to perform some of life’s most basic tasks: going up and down stairs, buttoning buttons, holding a fork (or even a spoonful) of peas. The wife he has dominated all of their married years will soon be feeding him and helping him dress. She will go places his knees won’t allow him to go. His ability to control everything in his life will give way to the need to ask for her help.

Family members dread the drumbeat of the march toward dependence. They also dread the ungracious way he will continue gnashing his teeth against time’s ultimate control. They will work hard to respect his wishes and will try to be kind, even in the face of his impatience and anger.

They ask themselves the obvious questions that every adult child must contemplate when faced with an aging parent: When will it be time to take away the car keys? How quickly will the Parkinson’s progress? How long will his wife be able to care for him as he declines? And the ultimate question: When he and his wife can no longer manage his care, do they care for him in their own homes or will a nursing home be in his future?

He asks himself these same questions. They terrify him. He is unable to verbalize them for fear that he will hasten the time when he is no longer able to function on his own.

He does not know how to process this ultimate loss and so every day he struggles with Time, feeling frustration at his weakness, trying to find any way around the truth he must finally see: that he never had the ultimate control he thought he had.

This is a cautionary tale for us all. So, may we gracious and accepting of Time as he walks us to the end of our lives. May we embrace each moment of our lives and may we savor family, friends and the stages of life because we do not know how long we may have until Time tips his hand to show us the trick he has up his sleeve: that he has control and we do not.

Photo credit: Ben White Unsplash