Forgiveness: it’s all about you

Some of my fellow bloggers have written some poignant posts on a tough subject; forgiveness. It started with a gut wrenching post by Diana Murdock on her journey to forgiveness and then Angela Wallace followed up with a great post about the key ingredient to reconciliation. Then just recently, I read an amazing post by Louise Behiel on her path to forgiveness. All are must-reads.

On Angela’s suggestion, I decided to repost (with a few edits) a post I did on the subject quite some time ago.

It all started when I watched Oprah interview Tyler Perry (Oct 2010) about his life. The interview took my breath away when Mr. Perry spoke about how he had forgiven his father for the abuse he suffered at his hands and how that forgiveness freed him to live his life according to his own truth. He said he called his father, and let it all out and then…let it go! I could imagine some of Oprah’s viewers were puzzled. How would THAT enable someone to forgive another? But I wasn’t confused. For me, it made perfect sense.

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? For me, the quest to forgiveness was very similar to that of Mr. Perry’s.

It happened almost by accident. From around 13 to 18 years old, I was an incredibly angry person. I was violent, mouthy, and aggressive. I had no respect for anyone in my life. I treated people poorly, was a bully, and was absolute tyrant towards my mother.

I knew that my anger had to do with how my mother had treated me growing up. She had been physically and verbally abusive for most of my childhood but stopped when I was around 11 years old. I knew that violence was second nature to me; that it actually felt good and comfortable to me. I understood that I lashed out in large part to gain a sense of control because for so long, I felt like I had none. I knew I felt the need to get even. I felt like the world and everyone in it had betrayed me and therefore owed me. I felt entitled and I felt justified. And as I got older, it got worse. The anger took over. I got to a point where I didn’t know how to control it or stop. I raged. I no longer knew how to not be angry anymore, how to let go and be free. I was possessed!

On my 18th birthday, I was living in an apartment and a party got out of hand. The police were involved and my landlord called my mother and told her that I was evicted. At that time, she was living 2 hours away and had been covering the cost of rent so I could graduate from my high school with my childhood friends.

After dealing with the landlord, we sat down 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. For over 4 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 but surprisingly, at the same time, I was empowered in a way I had never known. I was stunned that 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.

Most importantly, I forgave her not because she asked, not because she was sorry, not because she wanted or needed me to. I forgave her because it was in that moment that I realized that the only way to release myself from the past, from the anger and pain, was to forgive her. I had to forgive her for myself. It was the only way to let go and renew myself! Hanging on to that pain, hurt, and anger was exhausting and it was slowly killing me.

From that moment forward, my life changed; I changed. I still stumbled and had ups and downs over the years but that “blast/opening” was the defining moment that set me on a course for real change and growth.

Like Mr. Percy in his interview, 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 it hadn’t happened but I accept that I can’t change it and I am done letting it control me.”

I came to realize and understand that my mother had done the best she could with what she knew at the time. And when she knew better, she did better. How could a person ask any more of another?

At that point in my life, had I not forgiven her and let go of the past, 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 my poor choices and bad decisions and for any and every thing wrong in my life.

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, better choices but that wasn’t the case. But 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 would never own the ability to make my life grand.

A life of blame would have meant life as a victim; frozen in time forever. Because being a victim left me powerless to be a champion in my life. Too focused on the past to see the potential of the future.

People often ask me if I’d change anything that happened. And you know what, I wouldn’t. Yes it was hard, yes it had its challenges but it made me who I am today. And it made my mother who she is. And the culmination of those experiences has allowed us to create a most amazing mother/daughter best friendship that without our experiences, we wouldn’t have.

We both did the best we could with what we knew at the time. And when we knew better, we did better.

How has forgiveness changed your life?

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Comments

  1. Well, I thought you were pretty cool and classy before, but now I’m sure of it. It takes a remarkable 18 year old with a lot of self awareness to come to the concusions you did and make the decision you did. I don’t think I could have at that age, I’m still a ginormous ball of gacky stuff even now.

    You’re awesome, just in case no one has told you.

    • AWWWW…thank you Callene. I couldn’t include every detail in the post but I will say my mother herself was a huge reason I was able to get to where I got. First, she was a living, breathing example of learning, growing and making different choices. As well, from about 14 years old she got me into counseling with an exceptional psychologist that I saw weekly for a number of years. Add to that, she went to many sessions with me and was always willing to own her role, accept responsibility and work just as hard as I was (if not harder) to help us both heal! I credit my shrink for saving my life and helping me mature and grow so that at 18, I could move in that direction. Without both him and my Mom, I am not sure if I would have ever managed on my own.

  2. Nancy J Nicholson says:

    Natalie that is an awesome story. It give me hope with people in my life who need to forgive others. I’m so glad you found the catalyst you needed as your decisions have made you a wonderful person.

  3. “And when we knew better, we did better.” The ending of your achingly-honest post, says everything to me about how the new and improved next chapter in your life began. Learning from past experiences, discovering the strength to forgive as well as to seek forgiveness, and moving forward to embrace the potential of the future = the formula for a successful life in every way that matters. You don’t even need that Bedazzler!

  4. That was an amazing post! And so true. We do have to take control of our lives as adults and stop living as children. It was a big realization for me that people don’t have power over me like they used to when I was a child. Being in control of my own life is so important for me. Thanks for sharing this. I think I have some forgiving to do.

    • One of my favorite motto and saying is to “own your shit” and I mean that wholeheartedly. At at certain point in our life we each must truly and 100% acknowledge that everything within our life is of our own making, based in our choices. The truest essence of personal accountability. Scary as hell but the ultimate empowerment because…we are always running the show! Here’s to finding your own personal path to forgiveness Emma. It is liberating. 🙂

  5. Beautiful post, Natalie. And such an incredible turn-around you made! You are so correct when you say that forgiveness is about you. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. It’s releasing yourself from a negative energy. Harboring blame is like cutting open a wound time after time, never letting it heal. A complete waste of energy. But it also has to be done when we are ready. We have to get through certain processes in order to embrace. As a mother, I know the meaning of your words – “that my mother had done the best she could with what she knew at the time. And when she knew better, she did better.”

    We have a responsibility to ourselves to be who we choose to be. No more, no less. Bravo, Natalie, for such an incredible post. Thank you, as well, for the mentions. We’re all on this path together. Hugs to you, sista!

    • Diana, powerful comment. I love when you wrote:
      Harboring blame is like cutting open a wound time after time, never letting it heal.
      SOOO true!!! You can never heal fully when you are hanging on to the past. But also so very true that forgiveness and letting go is a very personal path that each of us has to come to on our own.
      I love how you said “we have a personal responsibility to ourselves to be who we CHOOSE to be”! AMEN sista!!! Every single aspect of our being is a choice….
      HUGS!!!!

  6. What a powerful post Natalie. Thank you. When you’ve struggled with hurt and anger for a good many years and you have that moment when you “get it”, well, there’s nothing like it in the world.

    I had to smile when you said you wouldn’t change what happened to you. I wouldn’t change what happened to me either, it’s made me stronger and better equipped to help and heal others — which is exactly what you’re doing with this post. So many people can be helped by your experience and you wonderful words. It’s nice to be on this journey with you.

    • Kate, I am so happy you are to the point where you see your experiences as ones that have helped build you stronger and more able to answer to your calling in life. That is a wonderful and empowering place to be.
      I couldn’t be on this journey with any better people than y’all!!! HUGS!!!

  7. This is beautiful, Natalie.

  8. This is an amazing post Natalile! I am so proud of you and so blessed to have met you via this internet connection. I understand completely where you are coming from and my heart swelled to hear you say it too.

    • Brings tears to my eyes to read your comment Debra! I feel so blessed to have met and created such incredible connects with you all….and to know that we aren’t alone in our experiences is a beautiful thing!

  9. Elena Aitken says:

    Brave and beautiful post, Natalie. Love it.
    And I love that line, when you know better, you do better. What a wise epiphany for you to have at such a tender age!
    Also..thanks for the blog love! ❤

    • Awwww…thank you Elena!!! It was hard but I think it was part of the realization that Moms are human to and they can make mistakes just like anyone. But when someone does better and learns from their mistake, it does no good to keep harboring in the past…the only person you hurt is yourself…
      Absolutely…LOVE your blog! 🙂

  10. Thanks for the link up girlie! I just realized you did that. I’m so lame sometimes. Doh!

  11. Wonderful post Natalie!

    “We both did the best we could with what we knew at the time. And when we knew better, we did better.” Is worthy of being posted on every mirror and fridge in the world 🙂 Thank you for sharing your story. You are an amazing lady.

  12. Well, you know I love you and this post only solidifies what I’ve known for a long time. You are awesome and amazing and one of the best people in the world. Your honesty and humility is inspiring. That your mother was open to forgiving you as well makes my heart smile. I’m sure it was no picnic for her to watch you crash and burn knowing in some way she was responsible. It took both of you to get to where you are today. Of course, life would be easier if there was never any conflict, but like you say, if you hadn’t had those things happen to you, you wouldn’t be who you are today. And who you are is pretty damn fabulous.

    • Awwww…thank you Tameri!! I love you too and your comment brought tears to my eyes – so beautiful!!! Sniff…thank you!!!
      It’s just awesomesauce all over the place today…MUAH!!! xoxooxx

  13. I think the whole key to being able to forgive others is the ability to realize that, just like us, everyone does the best they can with what they know at the time. It doesn’t excuse what they might do, because I also believe that people know when they’re doing wrong, it just takes a lot of effort make a change.

    But forgiveness is necessary for OUR peace of mind. It hurts us to hold on to unforgiveness. And it hurts us when we wait too long to give it. Someone I loved very much did something so awful that I held on to the bad feelings for over a year. I’d just gotten to the place where I was ready to let it go and start mending fences…and then she died. In light of that, holding on to unforgiveness, hurt and anger really wasn’t worth the cost.

    Great article, Natalie. It’s important that people realize how much they need to forgive others. Because it can get to the point where it’s too late. And then you get to deal with guilt, too.

    • So well said Kristy! I am so sorry you had to deal with that experience. It definitely complicates things. I found it very difficult to sort through my anger and get to forgiveness with my father who died when I was 16. A much tougher battle and you do realize how precious time is and how much of it we can waste hanging on to grudges that don’t serve us. I hope you’ve let go of the guilt because you as well are doing better now that you know better.
      The first person we must always forgive – is ourselves!

      • You’re right about that, too. But I think it’s harder to forgive ourselves than it is for other people. We can find all sorts of excuses for their behavior. But when it comes to us…it’s not that easy. As for my guilt, I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for this one.

        • Forgiving oneself is very difficult but to err is to be human Kristy! Would you forgive her or any other friend shoe on the other foot? If you would, there is your answer.
          I actually talked to my Dad (at length) as I sorted out my anger with him. I “felt” his answers and his love shower over me and I knew we forgave each other…and I forgave myself for hanging on to that anger for so long but I know in my heart he understood. None of us can predict the future. We do the best we can with what we know at the time. I wasn’t ready to forgive when he was still alive but his death didn’t mean our relationship was over and forgiveness couldn’t happen. All it did was change…it was complicated but not impossible! We worked it out and you still can! Talk to her and let go…and forgive her and yourself…

  14. I love this post – it will be a great ‘Exhibit B’ in my defense after Nat’s ‘Exhibit A’ on how I screwed up! I can do no wrong – because obviously I didn’t know any better! I love it! Talk about BOGO!

  15. What a brutally honest post, sharing a deep part of you. Thank you, Natalie. You are strong and an inspiration to others. HUGS!

  16. You are always an inspiration Natalie! I do remember this post from earlier, but it is a good idea to re-read this kind of information. We all seem to walk around with a little victim in our systems. I admire you and your mother for the humility you both displayed and the love you have for one another. If not for those qualities, you may not have been able to forgive, move forward and heal. You have my utmost respect girl and you know my situation. I can only wish to be in your shoes. 🙂

  17. What a heart breaking story, but what an inspiration to others who were victimized by others. You always hear the words, “Turn the other cheek,” but unless you have forgiven someone who has hurt you, the words just don’t click. By forgiving, we become free to grow. I’m glad you and your mom now have a good relationship.

    • Free to grow….ain’t that the truth Marie!!! 🙂
      Yes, I am so blessed to have the most wonderful relationship with my Mom now. We both worked extremely hard to create it. It just goes to show, anything’s possible…

  18. I have heard forgiveness described as the cancelling of a debt. It’s as if the person owed you something, and you simply say that they don’t have to pay. You don’t ignore that the mistreatment or the damage that it caused, but you move on and become stronger. Forgiveness is indeed one of the hardest and best things we are called to do. Your story is amazing, Natalie. How wonderful of you to share it!

  19. I agree that if it weren’t for all the things that happen to us, the good and the bad, we wouldn’t be who we are today. And you are absolutely fabulous. I envy you being able to open up and pour everything out to your mother. My mom says I need to do that with my dad, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to.

    • I think it was about letting go of the need for her approval and giving a shit what she thought Angela. At that point, I had little to lose and everything to gain. I was tired of feeling like I had to keep myself a secret. I decided to lay it all out on the floor and let the chips fall where they may. It wasn’t easy but we weren’t going to move forward otherwise.
      You obviously have a fantastic support system in place. When you are ready, I know you’ll open up and get your truths off your chest in the way that speaks best to you! Sending you a huge hug!!

  20. You are a miracle, Natalie. The fact that such a joyous, bright light of a person evolved from an abusive childhood is proof that anything is, including forgiveness and healing, is possible.

    I watched my mother forgive loved ones who hurt her, marveling at how she could do so. Then I saw the peace that forgiveness gave her and our family—peace others who didn’t forgive still don’t have. It definitely takes time, commitment and courage…You have those to boot, girlie!

    • Thank you sooo much August!! Yes, forgiveness definitely takes time, commitment and courage but the pay off is well worth it!! It’s so great that you have such an empowering example to live by. 🙂

  21. Natalie, I’m so sorry you had to go thru all of that, but you’ve certainly come out of it a superstar. what a powerful post. I’m honored to have been included in this touching and heartfelt story. and yes, isn’t it all about us and letting go of our stuff. well done. what a smart kid you were

  22. Oh my dear…you moved me enormously. What a brave and heroic post that will help so many others, and soooo glad the unburdening helped with your situation.

  23. Okay, I am again late to the party. A story of my life. Sigh.

    What an amazing story, Natalie. I agree with Amy – it’s so brave to share such an intimate and painful experiences. Opening up to others can do wonders, and it definitely makes us stronger. I think, hearing ourselves talking about what hurts makes us realize where to look for that clear path.

  24. Jessica O'Neal says:

    What a powerful post, Natalie. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. The lesson of forgiveness is such a hard one to learn, especially when the grievance is so big, but it is absolutely essential in order to live a full life. “At some point, it was all on me otherwise I would never own the ability to make my life grand.” – this is something that so many people do not understand. Beautifully said.

  25. I’m sooo late to this party, Nat, but I LOVE this post. I’m with Patricia: that last line is poignant, memorable and inspiring.

    I think most people who write have lots of material from their past. I have an incredibly poisonous father, for example. In my opinion, you can wallow in the poison and blame it for all the crap that happens to you, or you can step on out of it and go live in a cleaner pond. (Always very freeing.)
    If the spewer of the poison can keep it in check over in the new pond, right on – everybody lives a funner, more carefree and less painful life. If they’re still a-spewing, they’re uninvited from swimming with you in the Happy Place. It’s easier said than done, but it makes for a much happier life.

    As Dr. Phil says, “You teach people how to treat you.” The hardest lesson there is that you must value yourself enough to demand that you be treated with love and respect. That’s a hard lesson when life didn’t start that way, but you have mastered it. Bravo to you, my friend. BRAVO!

    • Thank you for the amazing comment Jenny. I agree completely, we writers often pull from our pasts.
      It sounds like you are swimming in a happy and healthy pond now and I am thrilled. It can be the hardest thing to do to pull ourselves out of the anger and blame to find calm waters to swim in. But it’s absolutely necessary to live free and to find happiness.
      Love that Dr. Phil saying – soooo true! You teach people how to treat you. I’m going to put that on a yellow sticky around the house as a reminder.
      Bravo to us, my friend!!!! Here Here!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Forgiveness: it’s all about you by Natalie Hartford – This is a very open and honest post that explores what forgiveness really looks like and the path Natalie had to take to find it. […]

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