Recently, I was watching Tyler Perry on Oprah give an interview about his life. And in one part, he spoke about forgiveness, about how he came to forgive his father for abusing him and how that freed him to live his life according to his own truth.
The interview, and especially that clip, took my breath away! His experience of forgiving his father, what happened, how he managed to do it, how it changed his life – was such a similar account of my own story, I was profoundly struck.
Over the years, many people have asked me that same question – how was I able to forgive my mother for being abusive and more pointedly – why.
To be honest, it happened almost by accident. I was an incredibly angry and bitter teen. From about 13 to 18 years old, I was violent, mouthy, aggressive, and had no respect for anyone in my life. I treated people poorly, was a bully, and was an absolute tyrant towards my mother. I knew that most of my anger had to do with how my mother had treated me growing up, I knew that violence was second nature to me; that it actually felt good and comfortable to me, almost natural. I understood that I was lashing out in part to gain a sense of control because for so long, I felt like I had none and in part, to get even. I felt like the world, and everyone in it owed me. I felt entitled and I felt justified. And as I got older, it got worse. Honestly, at that point, I myself didn’t even know how to control it or stop – how to not be angry anymore – how to let go and be free. I felt possessed!
On my 18th birthday, my mother and I ended up having a confrontation at my kitchen table. To this day, I don’t know what happened to me or what prompted me to open up but I did and for over a four hours, I unleashed everything. I told her everything I felt, every single thing I had done, every single terrible thing that had happened to me that she had no idea about. I let everything out – how I felt about her, how I felt about how she had treated me, how I felt about my father because he hadn’t stopped her. There was no detail of my life, my thoughts, or my feelings left unturned or untold. I bore my soul to her. I was raw and exposed and at the same time empowered in a way I had never known. I felt such relief to have gotten it all off my chest – to finally have unburdened myself and to have been, for the first time in my life, 100% honest with not only her, but myself!
And, in that moment, I forgave her.
Not because she asked, not because she was sorry, not because she wanted or needed me to – her guilt and sorrow was not a requirement or prerequisite for my forgiveness. I forgave her for ME. Because it was the only way to release me from the past and from the anger and bitterness. It was the only way to enable myself to let go and renew ! Hanging on to that pain, hurt, and anger was exhausting and it was slowly killing me.
From that moment forward, my life changed. Forgiveness and truth set me free!
Forgiving my mother wasn’t about “letting her off the hook” and I was in no way saying “how you treated me was okay.” It was about saying “what happened, happened. I wish you had done better but regardless, I can’t change it now and I am done letting it control me.”
Had I not forgiven her, the only person I would have injured would have been myself. I would have found myself living a life of anger and blame – holding my mother responsible for anything bad in my life, for poor choices and tough experiences, as I had through 13 to 18. During that period, I blamed her and held her accountable for everything bad in my life: “had she not been abusive, I wouldn’t have….she created me….she made me the way I am…”
And sure, you know what, at that age and to a certain degree, it was true. Had she not been abusive, maybe I would have grown up with a more solid sense of self and self-esteem that would have propelled me to make different choices but that wasn’t the case. And at some point in my life, I had to become the ultimate keeper of the choice. At some point, the responsibility and the fault for the wreckage I was making of my own life laid squarely on my own shoulders – no one else’s. At some point, it was all on me otherwise, I wouldn’t have ever owned the ability to make my life grand.
And now, as I look back, I don’t wish it was any different – because it made me who I am today. And it made my mother who she is today. The culmination of those experiences has allowed us to create an amazing mother/daughter, best friendship that without our experiences, we wouldn’t have.
How has forgiveness changed your life?