Dr. Keith: Living the Truth - Step Six
Forgive others and yourself.
One of the hurdles of seeking out the pain in your past and turning it into your power is that it can feel as if you are blaming others for your misfortune, including people you love (for example, your parents).
It is common for people to pause at the door of self-discovery and say, I don't want to make it seem like my parents are responsible for what I am going through.But, that's like a cop-out.
This worry reflects a core misunderstanding of the goal of Living the Truth.
Living the Truth isn't only about empowering yourself by refusing to pull away from your own pain. It is about realizing that your parents (or anyone else) were limited by the same very human, very understandable, yet very toxic dynamics that you were.
In doing this work, you will finally have learned to embrace your life story, good and bad. You have seen how you buried pain and disappointment behind shields that didn't reflect your best self or demonstrate to people your true regard or love for them. If you can accept the actions of people who hurt you, you might be able to acknowledge that they, like you - like most people - were doing the best they could. You might be able to look at your father's anger and see the tragic influence of his own father's alcoholism. You might be able to recognize in your competitive sister the inevitable result of the extreme pressure your parents put on her to succeed.
When we allow ourselves to see beyond people's actions to their pasts, we take ourselves from anger to empathy. This is the path to forgiveness.
Of course, the most important person to forgive is yourself. It is very difficult to forgive ourselves, because we know both our weaknesses and capabilities so intimately. We can always envision a million and one ways we could have been better, or have avoided a failure or loss. It helps sometimes to imagine someone we love who has struggled with her own demons. Would you give her permission to forgive herself for everything she has done that is not perfect, every misstep she has made in his own attempt to avoid pain and outrun the truth? If so, can you imagine extending a similar kindness to yourself?
You might find it useful to mark your decision to live a life in forgiveness. We celebrate things like graduations and weddings; why not celebrate the day you decided to stop living in the resentments of the past in favor of living in the hope and promise of the future? There's no need to be formal or to involve anyone but yourself. Simply writing down the date and a statement about who you have been angry at, and that it is your firmest intention to let that anger go, may be a sufficiently powerful gesture.
Forgiveness isn't something we do once and then forget about. It is a daily practice. After we have told people we forgive them, we show them by treating them with respect and kindness, and not letting underhanded remarks or lapsed responsibilities remind them that they somehow still "owe us." We show forgiveness to our own parents not just by treating them better, but by being better parents to our children. The amazing thing is that by forgiving others, we are forgiving ourselves. We give ourselves the opportunity to live without rage. We resolve that unhealthy dynamics and patterns that have ruled our family for generations are going to stop with us.
Living the Truth means feeling the pain of the past; forgiving those who blindly inflicted it on us, and resolving to do better for those we love. This is the highest form of human existence.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His newest book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement. Check out Dr. Ablow's website at livingthetruth.com.