Forgiveness and Understanding

This morning, I finished the book The Untrue Story of You by Bryan Hubbard. I found this a fascinating book that goes deeper than anything I have read in understanding how we learn and remember and how we interpret our past experiences. His last chapter consists of a glossary of terms that he used throughout the book. He says, “I’ve invented some new terms or used existing terms in slightly different ways.”

I have written a lot in this blog about forgiveness and Hubbard helped me to understand this phenomenon in a new way. In the glossary, he summarizes writes this about forgiveness:

Forgiveness is for you own benefit, not for the person you are forgiving. It’s a letting go of a past energetic imprint. Letting go and forgiveness are the natural consequences of fully understanding a situation. Only when you fully understand an experience by using dynamic observing will you naturally forgive and so let go. Dynamic observing occurs at a point when…you’re fully conscious.”

I have believed that forgiveness does not require understanding. I have attributed it to a spiritual experience of sorts, when we can let go of a harm done to us even without receiving an apology. Hubbard suggests that this experience is not actually fully forgiveness. As I think about it, I may actually be defining the ‘desire’ or ‘willingness’ to forgive. There are a couple of experiences in my life that help me and I would like to share them here.

My teen years were difficult because they coincided with the years that my mother’s disease of alcoholism peaked before she hit bottom and got help. Alcoholics will lash out at their loved ones in a way to actually cause reactions that will justify or explain their use of alcohol. It is very hurtful to those who love them and without help can be very damaging. In my early 20-s my mother sobered up and in her recovery became a new person, a new kind of mother. I couldn’t help but forgive her, or so I thought. But there was still a lingering sense of mistrust and some bad feelings concerning some of the encounters we had during my upbringing.

According to Hubbard’s description, I needed full understanding for forgiveness to really settle in and to be able to let go. I did reach this point. It came about in several ways. One was for me to become the mother of a teen (four actually). I found, as many do, that I would react to these weird creatures in ways similar to my mother reacting to me. Now, instead of just seeing a situation through the memory of a teenager, I was standing in my mothers’ shoes. Mom came to live with us in Minnesota in her later years, and listening to her talk about my teen years made me realize that much of what happened between us was normal mother-daughter tension. This was part of the understanding that helped me to forgive her.

Later, I myself struggled with alcohol. I sought help shortly after my mother died and the knowing that came from stepping into the shoes of her addiction completed the process. I am sorry that she never saw me in recovery, but I believe she sees me from her heavenly place now. My regret is that we were not able to share this life together while she was here.

Another situation where knowledge helped me to forgive has to do with my relationship with my mother-in-law. Dorothy was a perfectionist, prone to notice extraordinary detail, which often came out as criticism for her family members. As mother of two sons she was delighted to have a daughter-in-law with whom she could share her wisdom and skill. Unfortunately, this young bride was terribly insecure and stung to the core every time a suggestion was made to her.

A number of things helped me in the process of forgiveness. The first happened when she became legally blind. I realized that her attention to visual detail was a detriment to her in that she couldn’t help notice mistakes and mismatches and, as a compulsive talker, she always gave word to what she observed. I realized this was a personality thing. I also learned a little about her upbringing. Her tendency to notice detail was not seen as a gift by some family members. It was considered idiosyncratic and she often experienced ridicule and teasing because of it. This clearly damaged her self-esteem and caused her to be even more adamant about what she observed to be errors.

The second experience I had that helped me to forgive her was becoming a mother-in-law. When my son married Wendy, she was close in age to what I was when I married. I could sense her desire to please her new mother-in-law and to appear capable. I worked hard to be as affirming as possible, but I could often feel tenseness. Over the years, I am pleased that we have both relaxed. But my point in sharing her is that being a mother-in-law meant that I had stepped into my mother-in-law’s shoes. I saw our interactions of my early marriage from her point of view. Forgiveness became easy. Fortunately, we became close friends before she died.

I am thankful for this new way of understanding the process of forgiveness. It makes me realize another point that he made in his book, that our memories of experiences are always incomplete and therefore incorrect. We only know our own part in an interaction. Time and learning can open our eyes to seeing the whole picture, and hopefully, to knowing true forgiveness. In the meantime, there is the willingness and desire to forgive, which is basically opening our hearts to this special grace.

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