Shortly after the birth of my daughter, I became serious about letting go of some things that had happened to me in the past and moving forward.
Like many, my life has been a mixed bag. I have experienced some very great thing and some very bad things, including strained relationships with both my parents and childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a relative.
I had been in and out of therapy for years, but the same things kept coming up. I was stuck. I could not move forward no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t understand why this was. I was the girl who, for the most part, always succeeded when she put her mind to something. However, this was not the case. Months passed, and I was still obsessing over things that intellectually, I knew I should have been over. For example, why was I was still thinking about my ex-boyfriend from college who had cheated on me numerous times without my knowledge? On a similar note, why did I still need someone to tell me that being sexually abused at the age of 12 was not my fault when I knew it was not and no one in their right mind would ever suggest that I had invited it? I had already been over this a thousand times. I hated the fact that I was spending my energy thinking about this, but I could not stop.
Frustrated by this, I changed therapists and tried other styles of therapies. Nearly all were good and helpful in some way, but I was still incapable of moving forward. Then, it struck me. The problem wasn’t them. The problem was not the advice I was getting. It was me. I had been approaching it all wrong.
Somehow, my unconscious mind thought that by speaking about the things and getting validation that I was not the one at fault would somehow cause those that had wronged me to see the error of of their ways and acknowledge that they had been wrong. In my fantasies, these people not only admitted that they had mistreated me, but they felt regret, and asked for my forgiveness. If this did not happen then at the very least, I desired that what they doled out would come back to bite them and more importantly, I would be around to see it when it occurred. However, this was not the case. I had to come to the realization that not only might this never happen, but that those who had hurt me might not even care that they had done so.
I am not alone in feeling this way. As children we are told that there are consequences if we break the rules. Often times there are, but sometimes there aren’t. While many of us don’t expect God/The Great Spirit/etc. to come down from the sky and strike our enemies, we often expect those who wronged us to at least realize what they did was wrong. Think of how often we hear, “Karma will come back to bite them.” While this may be true for some, it may not happen to others for any number of reasons.
While I still believe that the majority of people in the world are genuinely good people, there are some people out there who simply cannot feel empathy for anyone other than themselves. One doesn’t have to fall into the category of a sociopath to be this way either. As human beings, we are very good at justifying our actions even though we often condemn others for doing the very same things. I know because I am guilty of this myself. I also think of someone I met recently whose husband left her for another woman. Despite the fact that family and friends were firmly on her side and offered her their empathy and support, the person she wanted the most to acknowledge her hurt was her husband. It never happened. Years have passed and they have since divorced, but she has yet to hear the words, “I am sorry” from him. As she put it, she’s not expecting it anymore.
Likewise, expecting the people who have wronged me to apologize or even acknowledge that they have hurt me is something that I have had to let go of as I try to move forward. I freely admit that this hasn’t been easy. While hard, letting go of that expectation/desire has been incredibly liberating. I have found that I am able to move forward without anyone giving me permission to do so. I no longer need to hear them ask me to forgive them. By realizing this, I also have come to realize that the power to move on does not come from them, but from me. Besides liberating, that in and of itself is very powerful.
Even though I have given up organized religion of any sort a long time ago, I am comforted by the line in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
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Ed: Brianna Bemel