English Forgiveness

Step 2 to Forgiveness: Acknowledging Your Hurt and Inner Poverty

We set off in the second of twelve steps in the forgiveness of Monbourquette. How do you keep relationships open in your family?

We are stuck

Mattias ( ° ) is 49 and has two children. His marriage broke up after 19 years. One day he came home, and the house was empty. Not only his wife and children were gone, but also most of the furniture. In the growth group, he says that he is no longer angry. He also says he was not hurt. After all, he understands it all because he has seriously fallen short in the relationship. In fact, he states that he came to the growth group primarily to learn more about forgiveness. ‘After all, he says I don’t have to forgive my wife for anything. “I understand her decision, but I have hurt many people in my life, and I want to learn more about how they can forgive me. That’s why I’m here.’

Many people deny that they were hurt. They would instead feel guilty than ashamed, rather the one who hurts than the one who is injured. They prefer to turn this painful, humiliating page in their lives as quickly as possible and pretend nothing happened. The human mind is very imaginative in sparing itself that feeling of pain and shame. But no wound can heal unless one has the guts to look at it and acknowledge: I am hurt.

Mental Resistors

When people experience something terrible, it evokes intense, painful emotions. People then try to protect themselves against that pain in various ways. One such way is to refuse to recognize the full extent of the injustice with the mind.

This is a very natural reaction. Sometimes something is so wrong that it can only penetrate bit by bit. Otherwise, the full magnitude of the event would crush us.
When this denial continues, however, the possibility of healing is also held back.

We build armor around us, and the denial of the pain causes mental suffocation. The armor initially intended to protect us is increasingly becoming a suffocating straitjacket, making it impossible for the wound to heal.

Usually, we don’t completely deny it happened. We’re just going to minimize it.

Everyone knows that Kevin ( ° ), a boy of 16, is addicted to drugs: his friends, the teachers, the neighbors. You can tell by his eyes, the nonsense he sometimes spews, his irritable moods, the kind of guys he hangs out with. Everyone knows it except his mother. Even though money disappears from her wallet, Kevin becomes furious when she cleans up his room. As bad school results pile up, … she continues to believe that nothing serious is going on. Just solid puberty.

Another way to deny that we’ve been hurt is to immediately apologize to the person who hurt us. We exonerate this person from what they did, and in doing so, we immediately clear ourselves from being a ‘victim’ of this act.

Caroline ( ° ) is amazed when she hears her friend Ellie’s voice on the phone. She has just spent the whole afternoon there with her 7-year-old son, Sam. It was not a lovely afternoon. Sam had been challenging. Ellie sounds a little confused, starts to say something differently three times, and finally throws it out: “Caroline, I couldn’t stand how you let your son, do you. You love him so much, and he takes advantage of it. He knows perfectly well that he will get his way when he starts crying.’
Caroline feels her spines rise. “Sam often has a hard time when not in his home environment. I must understand that, and I hoped you too.’ 
‘I know, but that doesn’t mean you have to adapt endlessly! You haven’t had a moment of rest. We couldn’t even speak. Kids can also be naughty sometimes. I think Sam was just being naughty this afternoon!’ Caroline opens her mouth for an answer but closes it again. Because somehow, she realizes that Ellie is right.

We excuse someone based on their past (for example, the upbringing), a circumstance, a limitation. And indeed, there will come a time when these things help to understand why someone acts in a certain way, but only after we have felt and acknowledged our injury. Denying and apologizing may seem like forgiveness, but it isn’t.

True forgiveness is like a new birth, it takes pain.

Those who do not want to face the pain soon discover that there has been no forgiveness, only a pushing away of the pain. But it soon rears its head again!

Marie ( ° ) has been with Sven for ten years. They were already in their thirties when they met, and there were no children. She thinks celebrating someone is very important. She ticks off the dates of wedding anniversaries or other festive dates long in advance. Every time she provides a pleasant surprise on that day. Even for Father’s Day, she plans something nice and lets Sven know with a card that he is an actual father figure to so many people. Sven beams and tells everyone how attentive Marie is. Unfortunately, he does not consider putting important dates on his entire agenda. A few times, he simply forgot her birthday.
“Oh, no, we didn’t argue about it,” Marie tells a friend. ‘Why should we? I completely understand. This was never the custom at Sven’s house, and he is swamped.’ She really means it when she says this. She does not understand why, a few weeks later, she goes completely crazy when he has forgotten to bring the promised bread.

Emotional Resistance

The mind can refuse to accept the full extent of the facts. There may also be solid emotional resistance.
When we are hurt, we realize how vulnerable, unfit, dependent and powerless we are. We feel ’embarrassed,’ worthless, unable to change things.

We usually hate this shame so much that we would do anything not to feel it.
Sometimes we crave revenge and once again feel like influential people in control of our lives.

Sometimes we become jealous perfectionists who do everything so well that no one can ‘shame’ us with a reproach. We avoid as many risks as possible, and if, despite all these precautions, we are caught making a mistake, we correct it immediately.

Often the outside world encourages such behavior. Yet we feel isolated from others and wonder why we don’t enjoy life so much.
Or sometimes we do just the opposite: we wallow in the role of the eternal victim because we have found that it benefits us.

But playing the victim and thereby gaining support and sympathy is not the same as chewing and digesting that painful sense of vulnerability in silence.
Finally, we often replace the feeling of shame with a sense of guilt. We then blame ourselves because it still feels better to say, ‘You idiot, how could you let that happen? Did you really not see this coming?’ then to acknowledge: ‘I am vulnerable, I am often incapable or powerless.’

Yet it is precisely in acknowledging that vulnerability and the shame about it that the beginning of the healing lies.

When we get hurt, we get a chance to grow in the realization that we are small people.

Sometimes I quarrel with my wife. She sometimes dares to say to me: ‘I can’t believe that you can’t listen so badly as a social worker.’ When my wife made such a comment, I became furious. My anger made it even more difficult for me to resolve our conflict harmoniously. (…)

Then I followed a growth group in forgiveness, and there was talk of shame. When my wife said again during a subsequent fight: ‘I can’t believe that you as a social assistant can’t listen so badly,’ I felt the anger rise again. This time I was able to contain myself, and I asked myself, ‘Why does this comment affect me so much?’
And suddenly, I knew the answer. And I gave that answer to my wife too. I told her, ‘I’m ashamed. It saddens me that as a social worker, I cannot always listen carefully.’
When I said that, I felt my anger subside. I concluded that, even as a social worker, I am not always a good listener. I let myself be known as ‘a limited person’. That did me good from: T. Fiereman,  I, my neighbor and my God, Bethlehem Abbey, Bonheiden, p. 33.
STEP 2, IN A NUTSHELL, I too get hurt. I do not minimize or deny those injuries. Acknowledge the responsibility of the person who hurt me. Sometimes I am powerless. I accept that powerlessness, vulnerability, and shame about this are part of our humanity.
STEP 2 AT YOUR HOME  Your children receive the message from all sides that they are not allowed to show their vulnerability. “Don’t let that happen to you!” ‘Show what you can!’ ‘You’d better!’ ‘Don’t cry like that! “Are you still a baby?”

Show them that you can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. Also, tell them that story about the time a good friend dropped you, or when you spent a whole summer grieving about a lost holiday love, or about failing an exam… This is how you give them the courage and the freedom to accept their own vulnerability. The Bible is full of stories about vulnerable, little people God chooses.

If you read such a story to the children, it is worthwhile to exchange it for a while.
I wonder why God chose David, the youngest and smallest of eight brothers.
I wonder why Jesus was born as a baby in a stable with poor people.
I wonder why the shepherds, the “losers” of their society, were the first to get the good news.
I wonder why Jesus liked to talk to tax collectors and sinners. Ask these questions without having a ‘correct’ answer in mind. The responses of the smallest may surprise you…

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