The other day, I had a great conversation with my sister, Chris. We were talking about the journey we’ve both been on to create different futures for ourselves based on healthier approaches to food and exercise. I commmented that the focused process of exploring my irrational beliefs and thought patterns resulted in painful memories, long buried, being brought to the surface.
Chris made an excellent point: sometimes we can become too focused on the past; that the temptation to point to particular experiences or people from long ago, and place blame there, is attractive because it takes us off the hook for today’s choices.
There is another way to look at it, though. I share almost no traits with Scarlett O’Hara, except for the “I’ll think about it tomorrow” thing. I have taken it a step farther — on the morrow, I change my version of what happened so that it doesn’t feel so painful. When I was a kid, I remember my mother saying about someone, “He’s told his made up version of events so often even he thinks its real!” Nifty trick — one I think (hope) I mostly use inside my own head. Another little trick is the one where, if someone’s behavior hurts me, I make up a reason for it — if their purpose wasn’t to hurt me, then I shouldn’t feel pain — any pain I’m feeling must, therefore, be my fault.
These are not that unusual as coping mechanisms go (at least they seem normal enough to me!). I think of it as “benevolent denial”, well-intended mental tricks to make myself feel better in the immediate moment and to feel more secure in my relationships. The problem is, I began to believe that what my heart felt couldn’t possibly be right — if I was hurt or in emotional pain I must have misunderstood something, gotten it wrong. When I stopped trusting my gut, it started getting bigger.
If I look honestly at the past, I may learn some useful things about standing in my own truth — to accept that tough things did happen, that people sometimes let me down, that I internalized messages that were incorrect or inappropriate. I am not looking for someone else to blame. In fact, if I am having trouble forgiving anyone, it is me. Its hard to forgive myself for not sticking up for me.
Chris is right, too, though. I can’t live today as if my choices were all made for me years ago. I read this line in a blog called The Holy Rover the other day: “Forgiveness is about giving up all hope for a better past”. I’m not going to get a better past or even a different one. Looking back in order to make changes in the present can be healing in many ways — forginving myself is one of the most important!