The Iron Hammer of Forgiveness & Smashing the Old, Sad Self to Smithereens.

Via D. Patrick Miller
on Mar 26, 2013
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HAMMER by Brad Knabel
by Brad Knabel

“Forgiveness is this world’s equivalent of Heaven’s justice.” ~ A Course in Miracles

When I was in my 20s I often imagined some kind of showdown with my parents in which I would nail them with their child-raising crimes and failures. After I’d read out all the charges and pronounced a guilty verdict, I would not allow them to escape from some kind of justice I would then exact—although that’s where the fantasy got fuzzy.

Their crimes were clear enough: my mother had been often hostile and punishing, undermining the well-being of my two sisters and myself instead of giving us the consistent loving support she should have. In between her undeniable acts of cruelty, she was either so depressed or so drugged with a wide array of prescription mood-altering substances that she was effectively absent for days or even weeks at a time.

For good measure, she often blamed her children for her own unhappiness. True, she had a “manic-depressive” diagnosis from her psychiatrist (nowadays called bipolar syndrome). But in my fantasy trial, that was rapidly brushed aside as just another failing of hers—a failure aided and abetted by my passive, quietly compliant father, who would rather see his own children suffer than stand up to his wife’s insanity. Even if she had some kind of disorder, they should have gotten it fixed before they had children.

(Yes, I was going to be a tough prosecutor.)

In my fantasy showdown, both parents had to face the music about their abysmal performances as parents, with no excuses allowed. Then I would bring down the iron hammer of justice… somehow or other.

When my showdown with my folks finally came to pass, the circumstances were not at all as I imagined. By age 32, I was seriously ill, with a phalanx of mystifying symptoms that had just received the equally mystifying diagnosis of “chronic fatigue syndrome” (CFS)—a malady that was even less understood than it is today. In a seemingly rare act of caring, my parents had flown 3,000 miles to see just what was the matter with me, although they’d already let me know that they suspected I had AIDS or a drug habit, and didn’t want to confess. (I did have to admit that “chronic fatigue syndrome” sounded like a classically Californian excuse for something else.)

On top of all that, even stranger things had been happening. Desperate for a cure and not finding one in either conventional or alternative medicine, I’d ventured into psychotherapy, and then into the even more questionable realm of spirituality. In my very vague cloud of unknowing, I’d picked up and begun to study an utterly bizarre modern teaching, self-contained in one book known as A Course in Miracles, which mixed a heavy-duty Christian terminology with Eastern metaphysics and proposed an extreme and relentless discipline of forgiveness.

The sum total of all these circumstances was that by the time I’d sat my parents down in the living room of my apartment for a big showdown, I had none of the righteousness that I’d always expected to bring to this encounter. In fact, I was in a totally opposite state, feeling physically weak, mentally confused and utterly uncertain of what to say.

First, I found myself thanking my parents for coming all the way across the country to look after my health, and said I hoped they’d been reassured by the explanation of my condition given to them by my physician (which, in fact, they were). Then I told them that while I thought my illness had probably been triggered by some kind of virus (which I still believe), I’d had to face some deeper questions about why I wasn’t getting better after months of steadily worsening symptoms, and what I could possibly do next in the absence of any effective medical approach to CFS.

I told them, briefly, about being in therapy, and then tentatively mentioned that I’d begun working with a spiritual teaching which suggested that forgiveness was a very good idea. Then I got to the hardest part, the part that I had always thought would be easiest: I told them that I had been very angry with them for a long time because I thought they’d failed as parents, and to be perfectly honest, I simply couldn’t imagine why they’d had kids at all, if they were only going to treat them the way they’d treated me and my sisters.

(The prosecution didn’t go on quite as long, with as much damning detail, as I’d once envisioned—I was chronically fatigued, after all.)

Finally, I told them that while I might well be losing my sanity along with my health, the Course had influenced me to consider that I’d be better off just giving up my anger, lock, stock and barrel… without conditions, without them saying or doing anything differently, without anything really changing, in fact, anything besides my attitude. I ended by sheepishly admitting, “Maybe I’m just too tired to be mad at you anymore.”

At that point I closed my eyes and waited for the hammer to fall on me. After all, what the hell was I saying? This was certainly not the capital case I’d outlined in my mind for so many years. Instead, this was little more than a craven admission of surrender. They’d won! They’d gotten away with everything, and now I was saying I wouldn’t even be mad anymore?!

With my eyes closed I could easily imagine my mother rolling her eyes, or harrumphing at my outrageous complaints, and my father looking hurt or confused, as he usually did in our family’s rare moments of open confrontation. I fully expected them to rise from their seats and walk out, shaking their heads. When I summoned the courage to open my eyes and peer across the room at them, my parents instead did what I would never have expected them to do.

They confessed.

My mother already had tears in her eyes as she said, very softly, “Son, I know I’ve always been eaten up with hatred inside, and I’ve taken it out on everybody I know. I’ve had lots of drugs and therapy and it doesn’t seem to do any good. I guess there’s just something wrong with my brain, but I can’t seem to help it.”

With a look of genuine compassion, and a steely tone in his voice that I’d never heard before, my father took my mother’s hand and said, “Janie, I’ve never understood why you had to be so hateful either. And I’ve never known what to do about it.”

Then they fell silent, and little more was said between us that day. The big showdown was over in less than 15 minutes. I was reeling inside, even more dizzy than usual, not quite able to believe what I’d just heard. My folks seemed beaten-down and sad. They left to return to their hotel, and I went out for a walk, hardly noticing that I suddenly had the energy to do so. In fact the walk consisted of little more than staggering from tree to tree in a semi-wild grove, weeping uncontrollably and trying to grasp what had just occurred.

Despite my parents’ confession of exactly the failings that I had always wanted to pin on them, I did not feel especially vindicated or victorious. Instead, I felt strangely shattered inside, as if an iron hammer of forgiveness had fallen on my own sense of self. Because at that moment I realized that the self I’d grown into was heavily identified with being a victim.

First I’d been the victim of my cruel and crazy parents, and then I’d become the victim of a cruel and crazy illness, and when you got right down to it, I was the victim of a cruel and crazy world. But if my first oppressors, my parents, had confessed, what was I going to do now? I knew I couldn’t go on identifying myself as their victim, but if that was not me anymore then who was I? Suddenly I didn’t have a clue, and the total effect was both frightening and disorienting.

“I am not a victim of the world I see,” suggests Workbook Lesson #31 in A Course in Miracles. I’d read that lesson before, but now it became the starting point for a new exploration of who I might actually be.

It would be nifty if I could report that I awoke the next day totally cured of CFS. In fact, I would get sicker for a few more months before beginning a slow, halting recovery that would require about five more years. But I did fully recover about seven years after onset, and today, I look back on that paradoxical showdown with my parents as the day I began healing.

I’ve since gone on to research and write extensively about forgiveness, and I’m always a little amused when I hear people dismiss this powerful discipline as a means of caving-in, letting other people off the hook, or just being spiritually correct. That’s when I know that these folks have not experienced the iron hammer of forgiveness smashing their old, sad self to smithereens.

To this day, that’s the only form of violence I can wholeheartedly recommend.


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Ed: Brianna Bemel
Source: via Monique on Pinterest


About D. Patrick Miller

D. Patrick Miller has been a seeker and researcher of spiritual wisdom for over two decades. He is the founder of Fearless Books and the author of a dozen books and over 100 magazine and online articles for such periodicals as Yoga Journal, The Sun, Columbia Journalism Review and San Francisco Chronicle. His research spans a wide variety of subjects, including A Course in Miracles, the Enneagram typology of personality, the I Ching, Jungian psychology, yoga, shamanism, cultism, spirituality in the workplace, psychic phenomena, altered states of consciousness, and advanced human capacities. He is the author of THE FORGIVENESS BOOK: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve (Hampton Roads, 2017), UNDERSTANDING A COURSE IN MIRACLES, and LIVING WITH MIRACLES: A Common Sense Guide to A Course in Miracles. He also provides other writers with editing, independent publishing assistance, and professional representation through Fearless Literary Services. Connect through Facebook.


10 Responses to “The Iron Hammer of Forgiveness & Smashing the Old, Sad Self to Smithereens.”

  1. Jack says:

    This is a truly beautiful and eloquent companion piece to your book, The Perfect Mother, which was equally moving. Your great compassion makes me think, though, that the iron hammer of forgiveness does much more than smash the old, sad self to smithereens. As the photo at the top of this article suggests, hammers tend to be used with anvils, and the iron hammer of forgiveness may be less an instrument of violence or destruction than of constructive reshaping. You seem to have emerged from the forge in good shape.

  2. dara says:

    AMAZING article. I know, forgiveness is soooooooooo misunderstood. I rolled my eyes at it myself until this year when I was brought to my knees by a mysterious illness also. It didn't cure me either, but it made my load so much lighter and clearer. Now I see that forgiveness s truly beyond the beyond. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. kmacku says:

    I'm in my 20s, and I've had the same fantasy trial against my parents that you describe. I've just begun to entertain the notion that I've been playing the victim card.

    May I come to the same understanding that you did. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  4. Dear kmacku,
    Glad to be of service. One reason that I couldn't imagine a fitting punishment for my parents is that there's really no power in vengeance or "settling scores." I didn't realize that at the time, nor did I recognize that all the judging and condemning I'd been doing was really hurting me, and having no effect on my parents. Had I actually vented my anger, they probably would have denied everything and/or fought back. When they could see that I was giving up my own inner battle, they could make a step toward giving up theirs. That didn't make everything perfect; we all continued to have our struggles over the years to come, but the worst of the war between me and them was ended. As I often remind people, forgiveness is a process, not a one-time achievement. It's a means of gradually changing the way you think and perceive, from feeling the need to fight the world, to being willing to see the world more clearly, and from that stance, to act more effectively without having to settle scores.

  5. Eyeamyou says:

    Thank you for so honestly and skillfully sharing such a moving and intriguing story.. I only l recently learned that to fully forgive means to STOP identifying with and grasping the repetitive story of my victimhood! Finding myself over and over in relationships that I created that would end in hurt and dissapointment. My mind could not stop trying to prove how wronged I was to someone …not sure who because no one “else” is able to let go of their stories generally to give a hoot. My freedom came late…my wish is for anyone surviving abuse from a parent to look at and sit with the pain till it burns up ..,With Metta

  6. anonymous says:

    thank you for this amazing piece. it all truly resonates with me. but i do have one question that i cannot quite wrap my mind around. i can get my head around forgiveness but how can you continue a relationship with a parent when their behavior is the same you are trying to forgive? meaning their behavior is as sad and pathetic NOW as it was when you were a child and they are still in your life. what is one to do? i feel sometimes as forgiveness is an easier thing to do when someone is not right in your face.

  7. anonymous says:

    not so anonymous when your picture is in your gravatar LOL. oh well, i tried. 🙂

  8. Dear Anonymous: If a child was doing something "sad and pathetic," you'd probably try to find a way to illustrate a better way of doing things to that child, or to point out that being sad and pathetic was self-destructive. It's hard to say what that might be specifically; it depends on the particular circumstances and personalities involved. But the one thing you would NOT do is respond in kind… i.e., become sad and pathetic by being angry with a child.

    This situation is a clear demonstration of the old cliche, "Misery loves company." The destructive parent is, at some level, a child with arrested development who seeks reinforcement and reassurance for unproductive ways of being. By forgiving, you demonstrate a better way of doing things; that is, you be the grownup.. In the short term, that might be to calmly walk away and say, "I"m right over here and I'm not leaving you, but I can't go along with what you're doing right now"; or it might be to say "What you're doing will not get you what you really want"; or it might be to say, "Here's something better to do than what you're doing."

    The point is to remember that you know better than an overgrown child, and you can find a way to demonstrate that. You know that love works better than anger or cruelty or manipulation, and thus you can offer reinforcement and reassurance for their own capacity for love, rather than for the unproductive strategies that have gotten in the way of that capacity. You can be good company without sharing their misery any longer.

    Now, most unproductive patterns that persist long into adulthood won't be quickly undone. Forgiveness is not a magic trick, and it can take time to effectively demonstrate a better way of doing things. As the Course says, "Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there must be a better way. As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point." So the point is to keep finding ways to demonstrate love so that you can help your parents toward that turning point, no matter how long it takes. Another major reason to keep finding new and creative ways to demonstrate love is that you really don't have anything better to do! Hope this helps…

  9. anonymous says:

    thank you so much. this does help a lot.
    i do find myself going to victim mode when i read some of what you wrote, thinking 'WHY SHOULD I HAVE TO BE THE ADULT?!?!? UGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!' and so on 🙂
    sometimes i feel like every time i move forward, i am faced with more crap from those i am trying to forgive. like i may never 'get' to wherever it is i am 'going' spiritually. and 'why can't they just leave me along, i am trying to evolve!!'
    but this too, keeps me stuck and in victim mode once again.
    i have noticed lately that i am in more of an observance space when dealing with my 'challenges'. it is very interesting to observe! i clearly see patterns and my part in it all. truthfully i am looking for an easy way out and don't really want to deal because others clearly never did! but that is when i have my cranky pants on and i am putting them on less these days!
    thank you again, articles like yours give so much food for thought and awesome teaching examples. i really appreciate it and look forward to reading more from you!

  10. Amelia says:


    I relate. I strongly recommend that you only look to the advice of people that have experienced Specifically what you are talking about. It is easy for others to wax philosophical about taking the higher road (which I did for years) when they have no idea how much it can drain you of yourself, your love, your light to be caught in those hurtful relationships. It costs those who love you too. It steals precious and wonderful moments of happiness and realization that you would otherwise be sharing with your friends, family, loved ones, self and the world. People who have not dealt with this ongoing have No idea what it is like for their Mom or Dad to think they are a piece of $h!t. You deserve youR life, and I for one, give you Complete permission to forgive (sure!), but Move on with strong boundaries or entirely out of such an relationship where they can so easily be cruel and turn you upside down on a whim. Be the grownn up, yes…but the child you should take care of FOREMOST is You!, bc they sure aren’t.

    Deep care and understanding to you. I pray we are a better round of parents!! Love & compassion for YOURSELF!