Love works when we envision anyone bathed in it and project it to them. It works even for those whom we rightfully expect should love us, we assume love us, and of whom we can list 5,328 reasons showing how they haven’t. Love is what forgiveness is about.
These words apply, most of all, to our parents. Are you rebelling already, saying, “No way! Not in a million light-years!”?
Parents May Be The Hardest To Forgive
Parents may be the hardest for us to forgive. Our society encourages us to blame them. Shrinks push us to cough up all the wrongs they did to us. Child psychologists warn of all the harm they can do at every developmental stage. Books tumble out regularly commanding parents, sometimes with astoundingly opposite advice, how not to irreversibly damage their children.
Louise Hay describes the black straws we keep grasping at when we think of our parents. For example,
“What they did was unforgivable. They ruined my life. They did it on purpose. I was so little, and they hurt me so much. I’m right and they are wrong. It’s all my parents’ fault.” [Love Yourself, Heal Your Life Workbook]
We trusted them, loved them, and had every right to expect the best from them. Like so many of you, my parents, too, betrayed my trust, undercut my aspirations, and too often simply weren’t there.
As adults and maybe parents ourselves, we have a choice:
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* Never forgive them. Continue to wallow in the blame and make them responsible for all the excuses we’ve made for not reaching our Dreams.
* Forgive them now. Even if it takes a lot of practice and backsliding. Even if it takes teeth-gritting will power and extraordinary determination. Even if it takes many tears.
Whatever the extent of your disappointment, disillusion and disgust with your parents, they’ve served an important, noble purpose in your life. Louise Hay admonishes, “So whatever you came to work out with your parents, get on with it. No matter what they say or do, or said or did, you are here ultimately to love yourself.” [The Power Is Within You]
Four Questions to Ask Yourself
- Do I want to continue to be miserable?
- Do I want to stay negatively tied to my parents, mentally and emotionally, even if they’re no longer physically here?
- Do I really want to let go?
- Do I really want to grow up?
If your answers to the first two questions are “No” and to the second two “Yes,” keep reading. Otherwise, throw this book down. I don’t want to butt into your misery.
If you’re still reading, know this: Even if everyone around you can’t seem to get along with, much less forgive, their parents, that’s no reason for you not to do so. You don’t have to be swayed, influenced, limited or dissuaded by anyone else’s patterns. “My sister can’t get along with my parents either.” “None of my cousins has a good relationship with their parents.” The job, and choice, are yours alone.
How wonderful it could be, after you’ve forgiven your parents, to establish communication on new ground, autonomous ground, where the affection and love remain but the destructive aspects disappear. This is attainable, but only if both sides not only want it but are willing to relinquish long-held beliefs.
Maybe you’re saying at this point, “Oh, sure, my parents will change. When the Red Sox win the World Series.” Well, that happened, after over 50 years. There’s hope for your parents.
There’s more than hope. You may find, as so many have, that as you change and relate to them differently, something magical happens: contrary to everything rational, they change too. A truism of family therapy says that the actions, thoughts, feelings, and words of one member cannot help but affect those of the others.
It doesn’t matter whether they live in close proximity or thousands of miles away. Once you think and act differently, so does the other person (kind of like family quantum mechanics). The catch, of course, is that you have to start to think and act differently.
Whether your parents are living or not, try it. You’ve got to do your forgiveness work first and resolve not to react in the same old ways to the destructive and negative family dances. These suggestions will help break the dams of decades of resentment, guilt and regret.
Five Ways to Communicate With Your Parents
Picture them, separately or together, and see them with light surrounding them. Hold this image as long as you can, with no thoughts, judgments or dialogue. See them in light as they are. Infuse the picture with love. Feel only love. This technique is an absolute prerequisite to any of the others.
As if you’re looking from across a room, see them sitting with you in a pleasant setting, maybe a lovely living room or favorite childhood spot. Feel only peace in this setting. Hear all of you speaking in pleasant conversational tones. You don’t have to know the words or subjects. Only see this scene taking place.
3. Write them a letter
Tell them what you really want to say. Let yourself write what you’ve wanted to say all this interminable time. You never have to mail this letter, and no one else has to see it. You can still use it—it can become the basis for a real conversation with them.
4. Visit with them
Choose a pleasant, convenient private place. Using your letter as a guide, outline what you want to say. For example, tell them you want above everything to improve your relationship and enjoy each other. Ask for their total attention, without interruption, and pledge the same when you’ve finished.
Talk to them as if they no longer suffer incurably from all the faults, hang-ups, and closed minds you’ve always known them to have. Talk to them as if they’re really listening. Talk to them as an adult. Talk to them as a friend.
5. Listen to them
How much have you really listened? Whether in person or your mind, they will respond. Use your inner listening and guidance. You may find yourself having a dialogue with them, on a much different, deeper level than ever before. You may discover facets about them they never revealed and that they’re people you never really knew. It’s time to see them as beyond parents and as individuals in their own rights.
When you reach out in these ways, your parents, possibly to your amazement, may respond very differently from their habitual patterns. Change may not take place immediately, and several visits may be devoted to clearing the air. All of you may get enraged, let off steam, cry, or clam up for a while. This is all part of the process. Just keep seeing them in light and giving them love.
If, after several attempts, communication on new ground still isn’t possible, accept this too. Love them and see them in the best way you can—maybe for holidays only, maybe for unsolicited advice that they need to give, maybe for children or grandchildren. Your relationship to them will have changed. You will have forgiven them.
Six Prayers for Forgiving Your Parents
Here are six powerful methods to encourage your forgiveness practice.
1. Close your eyes. Mentally list all the negatives you can think of about your parents. Keep at it until you feel you’ve finally run out. Visualize them with those negatives flying around their heads. See the dark negatives shooting off into space.
Creep up on a positive or two. Admit to a few more and write them down. Command the positives to surface and surround your parents. Surround the whole picture with light and let it blaze.
You may experience peace, warmth and relaxation. Stay in this feeling as long as you can. Know that it is being transmitted to your parents. Open your eyes gently.
2. If you’re stuck in the mantra, “It’s all my parents’ fault,” repeat the following five times a day: “My parents treated me the way they had been treated. I forgive them and their parents too.” [Love Yourself, Heal Your Life Workbook]
3. Reverse your roles. For a moment, see yourself as the parent, doing what your parents did to you. See them as the child. If you’re a parent now, you may have found yourself, probably in horror, echoing your parent. Perfect.
Now say, “Mom/Dad, I forgive you. I really forgive you. You were acting out of your own best understanding. You didn’t kill me. I am still here. I forgive you.”
4. Go back mentally to when you were a small child. Even if you don’t remember exactly, imagine that you do. How did you see your parents? You trusted, loved, admired and wanted to be with them. Become that child. This is the truth, beneath all the adult overlay. Bask in the feelings.
5. Refuse to keep playing the “game of guilt,” as Jampolsky calls this, the ping-pong of our continual abrasive interactions and resultant bundle of negative feelings towards others. Among the many wonderful exercises in his Goodbye to Guilt, he suggests a prayer for stopping the malevolent ping pong game:
This is my instant of releasing you, ____, and myself from a guilty and unforgiving world. Together we can join in seeing a healed world free from guilt.
6. Louise Hay gives us affirmations to neutralize our carefully guarded collection of negatives. Like catching a spark that flips out of the fire, catch your negatives and extinguish them with any of these:
* I am willing to go beyond my own limitations and judgments.
* I forgive them, whether they deserve it or not.
* I release myself from prison. I am safe and free.
* I give myself permission to let go.
Releasing Yourself from the Prison of Condemnations
You can let go. Allow yourself the redemption and freedom from your own prison of condemnations. Your parents deserve it. You do too.
The more you forgive your parents, the freer you’ll be to see them, and everything, differently. This includes what they did to you, how you’ve suffered since, and how you think they stopped you from achieving your life’s Dream. They didn’t.
You did. This, in the end, is why it is so important to forgive your parents. They’re not hampering you now, whatever your impressive edifices of rationales and evidence. Practice forgiveness of them in the ways suggested here. They will help you to forgive the other two most important people in your life—your partner and yourself.
©2011 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission.
Published by Unity Books, Unity Village, MO 64065-0001
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.
About the Author
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com