No matter our color, creed, or occupation; forgiveness is a tool that we all must use if we are to have a happy life. The problem with forgiveness is that sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to use, particularly when the person who needs to be forgiven is yourself.
Lucy’s mother is an emotional bully. During Lucy’s childhood, her mother ruled with an iron fist; punching, slapping, but never physically bruising (invisible bruises are another story). As any adult, she still hears echoes of her mother’s old mantra: “Your feelings don’t matter.”
Lucy is now 50 years removed from her childhood, but her mother still punches and slaps (in her own special way). She phones multiple times a day to keep old wounds open, and sometimes to open new ones. Bound by her sense of duty to her family (and guilt stoked by her mother), Lucy gives of her time, energy, and money, but her mother always requires more. Her efforts are met with manipulation, and her contributions are never appreciated or validated. When Lucy is able to muster the courage to say no to one of her mother’s demands, her mother reminds her of all of the debts that she accrued as a child: “I washed your clothes,” “I took care of you when you were sick,” or even, “I gave you life.”
The path of least resistance for someone like Lucy is to continue to appease her mother. She can grudgingly accede to mom’s demands, complain about it bitterly to her husband, and maybe mask some of her frustration and pain with another glass of wine after dinner...but that’s not a solution, and it won’t provide peace.
Our relationships with our families are incredibly complex (just like Lucy’s). This complexity often hides certain truths from us, so that our relationships become toxic as we do our best to fulfill our obligations to one another. The harsh truth that Lucy (and many of us), has to face is that her mother is a bully. Once she recognizes that truth, her path to freedom will become clearer.
Unfortunately for Lucy, dealing with bullies as an adult is not as simple as meeting at the flagpole after school and throwing fists. Those of us suffering under the lash of an emotional bully would probably welcome a bloody nose if it freed us of our conflicts. Adults have to trudge through many tedious gates: most of us work too much, don’t play enough, and worry ourselves sick about things that we cannot change. Suffering a bully should not be on our list of requirements. With that truth in mind, here are some facts that we should all consider when we are faced with emotional manipulation:
You have the right to live free from harassment and manipulation.
You are your own person. No one makes the rules for you.
You can say no.
Forgiveness = freedom.
To forgive means to stop being resentful towards someone. (It doesn’t necessarily mean that we ever get an apology.) Holding on to resentment leads to emotional scarring and debilitation. It tightens the tentacles of our captors. By forgiving, we are not diminishing the consequences for the wrong someone’s actions caused, but rather setting ourselves free from them. Imagine forgiveness as a pair of sharp scissors that snip away at those tentacles.
As “Lucy” and I discussed in our coaching sessions, forgiveness is incredibly empowering. It can remove guilt, grief, regret, and stress from your life. You may not be able to immediately forgive the most powerful emotional bullies in your life, sometimes that takes time, but you CAN start small and provide yourself with positive momentum. Forgive a friend for an unkind comment they made, forgive the person in front of you who doesn’t know how to drive in a traffic circle, or forgive yourself for a mistake that you made years ago. Once you get started, I promise you won’t want to stop!
Wishing you forgiveness and freedom on your path,