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How To Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Sep 17, 2015
Originally published in 2006
A few days ago, I was flipping through an Oprah magazine that my wife borrowed from our public library when I came across a short piece on forgiveness by playwright and actor Tyler Perry.
Here's the part that I felt a strong connection to:
My father was a carpenter. He used his hands to pour concrete and hammer nails. He also used his hands to beat me.
I was a tall child, but sickly—I had asthma—and when I went to work with him, the sawdust made me cough. I preferred staying home, writing and drawing. I conjured up other worlds: worlds in which I didn't worry about being poor, in which I was someone else's child, a child who lived in a mansion and had a dog. My father—a man with a third-grade education who was orphaned at 2 and sent to work in the fields at 5—understood only the physical. He thought he could beat the softness out of me and make me hard like him.
When I was 21, I left my house in New Orleans and headed to Atlanta to be a playwright. I got a day job as a bill collector and scrimped and saved to put on my play I Know I've Been Changed— a musical about recovering from an abusive childhood. But even though I was writing about recovering, I wasn't doing it. Every day I felt angry and bitter and terribly lonely. I rarely dated, and if a woman told me she loved me, I headed for the door. My play bombed; 30 people came on opening weekend. I put it on the next year and the year after that, and each time, it bombed again. Finally, 28 years old, out of money and months behind on my rent, I started sleeping in my car. When the car broke down, I asked my father to cosign on a new one, as he had just done for my sister (the light-skinned sister he adored). When he refused, I forged his signature. And when the car got repossessed, he called me, yelling. Sitting in that little room I'd just scraped together enough money to rent, listening to him berate me, something snapped. Something dormant in me woke up, and I began to yell back.
I told him that he'd hated me since I was born, that I didn't deserve the things he'd done to me. Everything I'd ever felt or thought—even things I hadn't been aware of—came out. When I was done, the line was silent for a long time. And then, for the first time ever, my father said, "I love you."
After we hung up, I felt light, empty, and exhausted. I knew that I would never again look at my father in hurt or anger. But in a strange way, I also sensed that something had died. I sat crying for hours, as if I were in mourning. My energy source, my fight, the rage that had moved me every day—it was all gone.
Slowly but surely, I began to fuel my days with joy instead of fury. That year—call it coincidence, call it karma—my play sold out. Then it sold out again, and then again. I began to write new plays, and the theme of forgiveness runs through them all. It's simple: When you haven't forgiven those who've hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.
I can't get over how powerful his last statement is:
When you haven't forgiven those who've hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.
I understand and agree with the idea that forgiving others is more about your peace of mind then it is about their feelings. You don't have to make it known to those who have hurt you that you have forgiven them.
The issue is learning how to transcend the hurt, how to get to a place in your heart and mind where the hurt is no longer holding you back from fully caring for others and allowing yourself to be cared for by others.
Is it possible to truly forgive all transgressions?
How do you forgive someone who physically abused you when you were a child?
How do you forgive someone who raped you or a family member?
How do you forgive someone who spread vicious and humiliating lies about you?
How do you forgive parents who put their own needs and egos way ahead of your basic emotional needs as a child?
How do you forgive a parent who left you when you were young?
How do you forgive someone who has sucked the joy out of your life through his or her negative, hypocritical, phony, lazy, selfish, and ill-tempered behavior through decades of marriage?
Maybe complete forgiveness is impossible in some cases. Maybe hurt that you have encountered is so bad that you will suffer to some degree until you pass on because you will always be angry at the people who hurt you.
If you are determined to find a way to free yourself of the burden of chronic anger, no matter how badly you have been hurt, there is one powerful and effective exercise that I can recommend.
It's to sit or lie in a quiet place and imagine your tormentors as they were when they were babies or young children. Visualize these people one at a time, and really take time to feel the realities of their lives as toddlers.
Babies are not born with a distinct desire to hurt others physically or emotionally. They are born craving love and protection. Visualize what your tormentors were like when they did nothing but crave love and protection.
If you work at realizing how pure and innocent your tormentors once were, you may come to a point where it becomes clear that their hurtful acts as older children or adults likely stem from their own wounds.
If you know of another effective way of bringing yourself to forgive people who have hurt you badly, I would appreciate you sharing in the comments section below. Your thoughts on this topic may make a significant difference in another person's life.
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