We are stuck
|‘I want to let it go, I really do’, sighs Rina ( ° ).|
She is walking along the Leie with her friend Hanne.
‘I don’t think much of people who keep rehashing their past. They annoy me terribly. Everyone gets hurt, right? One should not dwell on it too much. And now I myself have become one of those people who cannot let go of the past. It’s really not that I don’t understand her. I might have done the same in her place.’
‘Maybe’, says Hanne laconically.
‘No, I am serious. I was always the sister who got everything as a gift. I studied well, had many friends, found a nice husband, had children – and she had to miss all of that.’
‘It wasn’t roses and moonshine with you either. And even if she had, it didn’t give her the right to treat you like that.’
“I don’t know… I just know I can’t seem to let it go. Every time I think ‘Now I’ve let it go’, but then I hear my mother say something she said or did, and then I suddenly feel furious again.’
“Maybe you should forgive yourself first for not being able to forgive her?” she asks softly.
The Leie flows imperturbably on.
We often equate forgiveness with continuing a loving relationship with the person who hurt you.
Of course, this is the ideal scenario: After a parent, child, sibling has hurt you, have a good conversation, understand his or her motives and he or she for your feelings, and the relationship continues.
However, when it comes to a serious injury, because the injustice is great or because a small injustice has been repeated over and over, it is not so simple.
Even when you walk in forgiveness, you cannot try to walk before you can walk.
It is necessary to first take care of the wound, be kind to yourself and accept how your life has turned out before you are ready to understand the other person. Otherwise your reason will rush forward, while your heart limps miles behind.
In this impulse we explore a few facets of ‘understanding those who hurt you’. Be gentle with yourself if this topic provokes a lot of resistance in you. Then consider this resistance as an invitation to linger a little longer with one of the previous steps .
By the way, understanding is not the same as apologizing.
If someone drives through a red light and causes an accident, understanding may increase if it turns out that person was blinded by the sun or that they had just heard that their son or daughter is in critical condition in the hospital and drives headlong there. . Nevertheless, that person remains guilty of the physical and material damage and will have to be compensated as much as possible.
Understanding is also not the same as continuing the relationship in the same intimate way again. Through a growing understanding you experience an inner peace. Whether or not you decide to continue the relationship is part of a different dynamic, which we’ll explore in more detail in Step 12 .
I understand by seeing you and myself as we are
When someone hurts us, we tend to experience the whole person as negative. He or she ends up in the box of the people who are not in our favor. Consciously or unconsciously, we label this person as ‘unreliable, dangerous, unfaithful, irresponsible, …’
Of course we do an injustice to the complexity of each person and to the possibility to grow, to evolve in a positive sense.
In fact, there is often a lack of self-knowledge at the root of such white-and-black judgments.
Anyone who knows themselves knows how close good and evil are to each other and how one day is not the next. This self-knowledge helps us to be kind to others and to give them new opportunities.
Of course, this does not mean that injustices should be condoned or covered up. On the contrary, injustice must be brought to light and rectified.
However, there is a big difference between condemning the wrong and labeling the person who committed the wrong as ‘bad’ and ‘incorrigible’.
Often the condemnations against the person who hurt us come from our own shadow. That is certainly the case when a certain quality annoys us beyond measure. We see a quality in ourselves that we have not accepted emerge in the person who hurts us with it.
|Walter ( ° ) has been an exemplary person all his life: the oldest and bravest son, the most diligent student, the best husband and the most devoted father. When his son Victor becomes a teenager, the boy chooses a different path, much to his father’s dismay.|
Walter doesn’t understand why Victor is doing this to himself and him. Victor throws his cap at his studies and according to him the weekend is for going out. Victor himself does not seem to suffer at all from the consequences of his cheerful life, he says he has ‘the time of his life’.
Walter is immensely annoyed by his son’s behavior. He has always hated irresponsible people and now his own son has become such a person. His wife also thinks it’s bad, but is much more confident that things will be fine ‘after those monkey years’. She advises Walter to talk to a therapist friend about it. To his amazement, he invites him to name the good sides in his son. Walter is even more baffled as to whether as a youngster he himself ever longed to study less and go out and have fun more often.
For example, the therapist leads Walter to the possibility that his annoyance is so severe because somewhere inside him lives a little Walter who secretly wants to enjoy life instead of always feeling responsible. At first, that thought is unacceptable to him.
However, a burnout forces him to take the reins. He learns to let go of work more often and just enjoy life. To his surprise, he notices that he intensely enjoys an unexpected outing or that he finds it exciting to just follow a spontaneous inspiration.
To his even greater surprise, he notices that he can now respond much more calmly to his son’s behavior.
He is much less annoyed that the boy is enjoying his young life and is simply trying to make him aware of the consequences and dangers of some choices.
In this way, annoyances are our best teachers!
Are you annoyed by arrogant behavior?
That may mean that you behave just the opposite: everyone knows you as a humble person. Perhaps you are a little too modest, because people always tend to exaggerate in their greatest qualities. Maybe this makes you feel invisible at times and it would be really good for you if you become a little more visible.
Do you hate bossy people?
You are probably a model of service, and your ability to make decisions or set strong boundaries was not appreciated at all by your educators. But if you protect your servitude by calmly taking positions and setting your boundaries, you will maintain this beautiful attitude to life much longer.
In this way we must learn to receive what irritates us extraordinarily in the other. This is an often unprecedented way of applying the evangelical call to “love the enemy.”
The ‘enemy’, the person who annoys and hurts me, reveals to me my shadow side, that which makes me afraid and ashamed in myself. In this way I can also learn to accept and love that part of myself. And I’m growing as a person.
Seeing the present clearly means, then, that we see the injustice exactly as it is, that we see the other, no better or worse than they are, and ourselves, as we are.
I understand by looking for the positive desire behind what you do
|Sander ( ° ) of 12 enters. He glances briefly at the sitting area, where his mother is having a cup of tea with his grandmother, and immediately wants to go upstairs.|
‘Hey Sander, great that you’re here already, boy’, his mother stops him. “Did you have the early bus?”
Sander doesn’t look at her. If you’re autistic, it’s not easy to know how long to maintain eye contact, and if you’re tired, you’d better save yourself the hassle.
“Grandma’s here too. Would you like to join us?’
‘No’, Sander answers and when the next question doesn’t come straight away, he continues his way upstairs.
The two mothers, one older mother and one younger mother, look at each other for a moment.
‘It must be difficult for you sometimes,’ the older mother then sighs.
“Yes,” comes the answer calmly. “But he’s not doing this to hurt anyone, I know he loves us. All he needs now after a day full of stimulation is rest. And it’s good that he knows how to find it.’
When someone hurts us, it often feels like that person was deliberately trying to hurt us. However, this is only very exceptionally the case.
Even with outspoken negative behavior, there is usually a positive intention at the base.
The aggressive person who immediately starts yelling at partner and children, perhaps out of low self-esteem or own injuries, needs to be respected.
The young shoplifter wants to cut a good figure with his friends.
The overly dominant boss may feel the need to take responsibility.
The child who throws everything in his hands through the living room in tantrums wants to get rid of a painful feeling of frustration.
The ways in which these people try to fulfill their needs are of course wrong, but the intentions behind them are deeply human and good.
If you look for the positive intentions behind hurtful behavior, you are triple strong.
First, you are not emotionally paralyzed by the belief that someone you love was consciously trying to hurt you. You can think more clearly and objectively.
Second, you will talk to your partner, child, parent, sibling as an ally with whom you are trying to solve a problem, rather than as an enemy you have to guard against.
Thirdly, the chance of a positive outcome is much higher, because your conversation partner will feel understood and loved by you. You recognize his or her worth and dignity.
|Klara ( ° ) says that her six-year-old son’s tantrums have improved.|
“I’ve stopped telling him not to be so angry, or not to be naughty – I’ve told him I understand he’s angry and sometimes I’m angry too. Then I played a game with him: drawing what we can do when we are angry. The game had only one rule: hurting someone or breaking things was not allowed. It is unbelievable what has come out: climbing a tree, boxing in a pillow, walking around in the garden, playing music loudly and shouting, … I hung up the tray and it often happens that it ignores the steel and explodes again, just like before. But sometimes, when he’s angry, I see him looking at it. Then he puts on his coat and walks into the garden, straight to his ‘I’m angry’ tree. And when he comes back, we’ll laugh at each other.
I understand by knowing your past
|Geert and Carine ( ° ) have been married for twenty years. For the outside world they are the ideal couple. Those who know them better know that their harmony is not one without pain. Geert has a very hard time being emotionally close to Carine. Or as she puts it: ‘In those twenty years he has not asked me twenty times how I was doing, and really listened to the answer.’|
Yet this lack did not destroy their marriage. ‘You know’, says Carine, ‘there are many love languages. One of them is talking to each other about your feelings, about what’s on your mind. I understand why it is almost impossible for Geert to speak that language. For starters, he was never asked that question himself as a child. Never! A conversation about feelings was taboo. And if emotions came out anyway, they were devastating. His mother was manic-depressive and could be very unpredictable and aggressive. Little by little he told me stories about it. Over the years, feelings for him have become something dangerous and threatening. But his growing openness about it, and the fact that he still dares to ask that question every now and then – for me that’s enough sign of love, because I know how much effort it takes him.’
It is sometimes said: ‘God forgives everything, because God knows everything.’
And certainly, when people know each other’s past, see each other’s secret pains and fears, they would judge each other more leniently.
Again, this does NOT mean that the debt will disappear.
Take, for example, a rape, of course it must be severely punished. All possible measures to protect people from a rapist should be taken. Still, knowing that the rapist was abused as a child can help keep this person from diabolizing. The perpetrator is also a victim and the criminal pattern does not have to repeat itself for a lifetime.
I understand by accepting that I don’t understand everything
Even if we do all of the foregoing, we are sometimes faced with a conundrum.
We are sure that we are not projecting our own shadow onto the other.
We looked for the positive intentions behind the behavior.
We looked for a past cause of this behavior.
We may have figured something out, but it’s just not enough to really understand someone’s behavior. Deep down, we don’t understand why someone harms us.
Then all that remains is the acceptance that we can never fully fathom another person or fully understand his motives. Every human being is deeply a mystery.
|I will never fully understand why my ex-husband jeopardized thirty years of marriage and started a new life with a woman who could be his daughter.|
I know he had a terrible childhood, without any softness or warmth. That may explain how he was able to take this step, so numb as if all those years hadn’t happened.
I think he’s terrified of getting older.
Perhaps I reminded him too much of that, with my failing health.
But with my heart I cannot understand. I look at our pictures together, with our three children, and he seems like a stranger.
I don’t believe he wanted to hurt me. He just wanted to escape a pain that’s been inside him all his life.
The kids don’t want to see him anymore. I get a lot of support from our friends, he is excluded. I don’t feel triumphant about that, but I don’t feel the need to do anything about it either.
He has chosen his way. I don’t want to waste any more time trying to understand why. I accept that I will never fully understand. I want to be free to go my way.
|STEP 7 IN A NUTSHELL|
Sometimes we get hurt by what we suppress in ourselves. Behind every negative behavior is a positive intention, can you see it? Negative behavior is often a reckoning with the personal past. Accept that every person remains a mystery. Understanding is not the same as approving. Understanding does not always mean that the relationship can continue.