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How to Forgive Someone Who Isn't Sorry

From Our Mailbag:

Hi Dr. Ben,

I'm 59 years old and am hoping that you can help me with an issue that has been a heavy burden almost all my life.

I know from following your work for many years that you've read The Glass Castle.  My parents were very much like the parents in that memoir.  They put themselves first throughout my childhood.  My brothers and I grew up with very little and there were times when we went days being hungry.  None of us went to college - there wasn't any money for it and we didn't think of borrowing from banks or the government.

I worked full time in a restaurant from the time I graduated high school until my late 30s when I was blessed with the windfall of my life - the owners of the restaurant wanted to retire and they offered to sell it to me and two others who worked there.  It took the three of us a little over 10 years to pay off the loan but it was mostly good times.

I am still a part owner and continue to enjoy the work.  Through much sacrifice, regular saving, and following a financial investment plan, I became financially free a few years ago.  

The issue is that all these years and especially now, my parents have heavily leaned on me for financial support.  I go between being happy that I can help them and feeling terribly used.  I know you understand because I read your article on giving and the resentment that it can cause.  My parents are in their early 80s now and rely on social security plus what I can give them to live comfortably.
  
I can go for weeks or months being happy to help them and then something they say can cause me to explode with anger.  What it comes down to is that they have never shown remorse over neglecting us when we were young.  From the way they speak about the past it's as though they think they were great parents which makes my blood boil.
  
I don't want to carry this until I die.  I want to be over it.  I want to forgive them.  I just don't know how.
  
Thank you for reading this far and for any ideas you might have.

Sincerely,

Emily M.

***

Hi Emily,

Thank you for writing in to ask for my thoughts on your inner conflict.

My sense is that what you need most to get over the hurt you have felt for so long is to feel like your parents are truly sorry for neglecting you and putting their own wants ahead of taking care of your and your brothers' essential needs as you grew up.  Now that they're leaning on you for support even though they weren't there for you when you most needed them, it feels impossible to avoid feeling hurt and resentful sometimes.

We've thought a lot about how things were and we realize that we made some selfish choices, that we put ourselves and what we wanted far ahead of what was best for you and your brothers, and we're truly sorry.  We're also sorry to be a financial burden to you in our old age - we didn't plan responsibly or make necessary sacrifices for these years and we recognize how unfair it is to ask you to support us the way that you have been.

If your parents could express this to you and you could really feel that they are truly sorry, I'm guessing that this would be more than enough for you to find the peace that you are seeking, to be able to truly forgive them once and for all. It's clear from your message that you are a thoughtful and generous person.  Hard-working, too.  

Because you asked for my thoughts, and it makes me a little sad to share them, I have to say that based on my own life experiences, this type of apology probably isn't coming.
 
For your parents and others who consistently put their own wants ahead of everything else, even the basic needs of their growing children, I don't believe that their minds and hearts are conditioned to process your upbringing as you have.  You wrote yourself that there are indications that your parents feel that they were great parents.  So clearly, they see and process the world differently than you, I, and others do.

Put another way, if a person were capable of fully feeling your pain, hurt, and resentment while knowing that they were a primary cause of your suffering, and if they also had the capacity to take full ownership of this and apologize from the heart, they most likely wouldn't have made the choices they did to neglect and hurt you as they did.

So for you to find lasting peace, I think it would be helpful for you to come to terms with the strong likelihood that your parents will never fully acknowledge or own their shortcomings and express heartfelt and unconditional remorse.
If by some miracle they are able to do this one day, this will be a great gift, of course, but you should fully expect that such a day will never arrive.  

So how do you find peace?  Being the firstborn son of a Korean family, I have some experience with the struggle that you are experiencing. Though I don't have any sure-fire strategies to suggest, here are a few ideas worth considering as you look to shift your mental health and well-being for the better:

First, it might be helpful to consciously spend less time with your parents.  This doesn't mean that you need to shut your emotional core down and stop caring about them or cease supporting them.  Just look to reduce the frequency with which you interact with them, at least for the short term.  It doesn't help them or you to continue to spend regular time together in person or on the phone only to have your hurt and resentment continue to grow and for you to experience your occasional eruptions.
  
Second, do a little more than you normally would to be kind and helpful to others you interact with or randomly bump into.  Anonymous giving is powerful in this regard - something as simple as covering a person's coffee or tea going through a drive thru is likely to take up some space within your spirit, leaving a little less room for hurt and resentment to exist and grow.
  
Third, spend a little time each day thinking about something you wish to be forgiven for and then ask for this forgiveness while in meditation or prayer.   Ask for the grace to be forgiven and to feel free.  

Next, imagine speaking with your parents again and think of a way that you can consciously slow down time and increase the space between feeling triggered and the next words or actions you choose.  Within this space, consciously put your mind's focus on a word or an image that reminds you of your wish to be at peace.  Have this word or image ready at all times and practice jumping right to it in your mind whenever you begin to feel your hurt and resentment stir.  After restraining yourself, end the interaction by wishing them a good day with no hints of animus. Hopefully, succeeding at showing this type of restraint will bring you some fulfillment, knowing that you are improving in your ability to widen the space between stimulus and response and being more conscious in your chosen responses. And maybe, just maybe, in doing this multiple times, your parents will begin to consciously or subconsciously learn which words and actions they might avoid in order to enjoy your company for a little longer during future conversations and visits.
 
Clearly, you still deeply care about your parents - I believe many others in your circumstances would stop interacting with their parents entirely, and this might just be the sensible thing to do, especially if it allows a person to better maintain their mental health and well being and take care of their most important responsibilities like being a good parent themselves.  So on behalf of the world, I salute you for your compassion and patience.

To others who might stumble upon this, if you have a suggestion for Emily, an action step that you have found to be helpful in transcending similar feelings of hurt and resentment, please consider sharing via the comments section below or in the comments section under this video at our YouTube channel. Many thanks.   

 
 

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Comments

WOW. I'm also 59 years old. been married for 43. My husband and I are very different. I've always been somewhat of a fitness enthusiast. He, not so much. For more than three decades I begged him to change, come to the gym with me, Etc. There were a lot of things he couldn't do with our children because of his physical condition. 3 years ago he suffered a massive heart attack and some neurological issues. He now has CHF. The consistent corrective action offered by doctors was exercise exercise exercise. For a while 2 years ago I actually got him to the gym for a few months on the exercise bike everyday and he improved significantly, his cardiologist was thrilled.

I asked about CO-Q10 as ubiquinol and we added that to his regimen, as well as doing a ton of research myself and fine-tuning his diet accordingly. He has had dozens of physical therapists at home and outpatient as well as 7 PT rehabs.

Despite it all, he continues to refuse to accept or acknowledge that hard work is his only choice to prolong his life, yet says he wants to do so. He chose to go to a nursing home for PT rehab 6 months ago and has gotten worse instead of better, now he's considered long-term care. I go there twice a day, in the morning before work and in the evening after I get off. I beg on a daily basis for him to work harder try harder but to no avail.

The hardest thing in the world is watching someone that you care about go downhill I absolutely identify with Emily's situation. In my case I also have to advocate for him and constantly battle with nurses CNAs doctors physical therapists Etc.

He says that he will try harder if he comes home, but this has been repeated several times so I desperately want to believe him but I know deep down that it won't happen. I have found that a few things help my mood.

Number one, I draw enjoyment from my part time job. My presence is valued and I appreciate that. It might sound superfluous, but I make a point to consciously recognize compliments and pleasantries extended by my coworkers everyday. I also use chewable theanine from Natural Factors, 100 mg before I head in to visit him twice daily.AND; I got a library card. Remember those? Most larger metropolitan areas have pretty nice libraries, and the whole environment is quiet and relaxing while simultaneously interesting people watching. The luxury of turning off your cell phone and sitting in a chair in a quiet place and reading a book and turning the pages even for an hour is great.

This past week I also started working on getting a visiting caregiver to go to the nursing home three mornings a week for a few hours in my place. Sadly, the hourly expense is almost twice what I make at the job, but it will be worth it just to reduce the stress by a few hours a week. So I feel like spending less time definitely makes me feel less resentful.

I hope any of these suggestions help, and thank you for video I really needed to hear that this morning. DJ

I have also used dr. Ben's adrenal refresh formula. It seems to be a little stronger so I generally save it for events I know are going to be stressful, his doctor appointments and stuff like that. Thanks

Please try and understand that a good diet could
Help turn you and your husbands life around!
Please check out "The how not to die" book and cookbook
And reap their rewards. Bon Appetit!