When studying about birth order, our small group took time to discuss “forgiving” our parents (or other people who may have seriously harmed us or failed to teach us what we needed to know.)
Forgiving can’t really be done until we “own” our feelings and grieve any losses. I don’t think God mindlessly “forgives” us. God has felt all the feelings of emotional abandonment, rejection, betrayal, hurt, misunderstanding, etc. from humanity’s (my!) choices and attitudes. Read God’s interactions with Israel in the Old Testament! He “owned” His feelings and revealed them to the people He loved. God wants to be in relationship with us.
Back to my comment that I think there is a stage in life when it is important to process feelings and forgive parents or other important role models who failed us in some way. We own our feelings and grieve our losses and share what needs to be shared (which doesn’t always have to be shared with the parents or people themselves.) With forgiveness, we don’t ever actually forget, but the memories will not be a running sore just under the surface anymore. It becomes a healed scar. We remember, but the pain is not there. Grieving, speaking the truth in love to ourselves and maybe to another safe person, and forgiveness lets us move on.
No parent is perfect. Even a 10 on the parent scale with good hearts and motives, are still human. 🙂
There are lessons for us to figure out during a possible grieving process. For me, I did have to understand my mother (a wonderful mother, btw!) from an adult viewpoint and know that she did the best she could with the knowledge she had at the time.
However, most of my “working through to forgiveness” involved men, and so it was with John that I had to work out my trust issues. We both had some unhealthy communication habits in our first ten years of marriage that could have eventually seriously damaged or wrecked our marriage. So for me, working toward forgiveness involved getting honest with John. Otherwise it would have been simply stuffing negative feelings and acting like it was all ok. That’s not forgiveness.
We are all so different in how we handle emotions, especially negative emotions. None of us enjoys pain. Some people unconsciously lash out at others to prevent any grieving and owning of their own feelings. Self-awareness can feel too personal, too painful, too threatening. Others focus too much on their negative feelings and get stuck in bad feelings.
When trying to communicate, “I” messages are much more effective than “you” messages. “You” messages are what come naturally to us. It’s an easy habit to fall back into! We’d much prefer attack for that makes us feel safer. However, “I” messages are much less threatening to others and people can hear us much easier. “I” messages take work. We have to think and feel our way though something and figure out what’s going on before we can be honest with a spouse or parent about our own thoughts and feelings.
Don’t expect other people to read our minds!!! They can’t do it. They can guess, but their guesses are going to come from their own background and their own temperament. Seldom will they guess correctly. We’ve got to tell them who we are and what we think and feel. Gently, respectfully, and with Holy Spirit led honesty.
Developing healthy boundaries was a huge issue for me. Trent and Cloud say in their Boundaries book that the person whose boundaries are being collapsed or disrespected is the one who is responsible to reveal their own boundaries. If you are an introverted phlegmatic who avoids conflict at all costs, that may only happened as an action of obedience to God!! I didn’t have it in me to set boundaries on my own. I would have rather suffered myself than to cause other people to hurt or feel bad!! Even when I knew it would be good for our relationship!!
So as a peaceful person, how do you reveal your boundaries with a Type A personality?
First of all, know that we can’t control anyone else’s choices and actions. So, yes, it’s risky. But choosing healthy relationship principles will give us our best chance for increasing intimacy in our relationships.
I had to ask myself and God questions. I had to pay attention to my feelings. Feelings tell you the state of your relationships. They are not to be trusted for leadership, but they do have their place!! So when something was said or done in our marriage that really upset me, I had to start thinking. “What’s going on here? Lord, why do I feel so angry, so depressed, so insecure, etc?”
I’ve learned that God always answers my honest questions. Somehow the answers would come through thinking, praying and journaling, through books, through programs, podcasts, people, etc. The understanding might come quickly or it may take days or weeks. One answer that I specifically remember took eight months of “work” before the light bulb came on! And to be honest, there are times it’s years before we see how the puzzle pieces start fitting together!! Life isn’t simple. But God’s ways are right and good!
But then came the hardest part. Communicating my feelings, what I thought!! That felt very risky. That will always feel risky! Sometimes it involved connecting emotions from past experiences with the present circumstances and sharing that.
For me, I’ve learned that when someone else listens to me, it can help me let go of the past. We need to talk things out with appropriate people. If our wounds came from parents, we don’t always have to talk it out with parents. That could be a good thing. However, many parents have no clue that they have been harmful or hurtful. If we know their motives were good, it’s easier to let go and forgive. We don’t want or need to devastate good hearted parents. Grace is needed on both sides.
Some parents are products of dysfunctional families and have their own personal issues. We are all adults now. It’s proper that we choose to interact in a healthy way as adults.
The question, “Do boundaries need to be set to protect myself?” is something that may also need to be answered. But setting boundaries must be accompanied by sharing the details of the why and how. Then you can practice “If you…then I….” (I suggest counseling involvement with something like this.)
It is important to share our feelings and our emotional needs with the people we love and give them the chance to change and meet them if they want. Start with something small and see what the response is. Each time John “heard” me, my trust in him increased a little more. I could start to believe that all men were not alike, the way my deep core fears were telling me they were following a crisis in some friends’ lives!!!
Can you sense how risky this can feel? The fear of rejection is one of the strongest fears in all people. Neither do we want a repeat of any past painful memory!
We have to take those risks. Carefully, not foolishly, but it’s right to take prayerful risks! However, we take risks in community, first with God and then with other healthy support persons. We don’t take these risks alone, in isolation! (Another reason for “church”. 😊)
The key to forgiveness and healing is coming to a healthy balance. If all we do is react to our past hurts, then likely we will act just like the other person—just in the opposite direction and we’ll land in the ditch on the other side of the road. The hardest work is seeing what is true, figuring out God’s relationship principles, and then acting on them even when it feels like you will be very emotionally vulnerable to the other person.
We aren’t promised a fairy tale life or pain free growth. But this is our best chance for good to happen in our lives–acting against our natural emotions of self-centeredness and control and acting like Jesus—with love and trust!! That is functional living!!!
This is the foundational truth of being “saved”. Identity with Christ and obeying His ways “saves” us from our fallen nature and our fallen emotions. Identity with Christ prepares us for living with Him forever!