I could have titled this piece “How to forgive your abusers”, but I think surviving a troubled childhood is about a lot more than forgiving those who made you suffer. It is about understanding how a troubled childhood has affected your life and kept you from becoming the best you were meant to be.
What makes up a troubled childhood?
Some traumatic experiences are obvious, like sexual abuse, other things not so much. What may seem as abusive to some, others can call good parenting. The only thing that matters when making this determination is what you think. If you believe the behavior of adults in your childhood left scars in your psyche, then it is so. This article is then for you.
I grew up with very abusive parents. My mother was bipolar and prone to beating my brothers and I for the smallest of infractions. Her physical punishment depended on her mood. I coped with her by reading her growing anger and then putting a stop to it with apologies and giving in to what she demanded before it escalated out of control.
My father was an emotionally distant man who kept me art arm’s length throughout his life. However, he had no problem showing his disapproval and resentment towards anything I did. I spent most of my life seeking an approval that would never come.
My parent’s marriage was a torturous affair of forty-some years and it fueled their bad behavior towards each other and their children.
The net result of my upbringing was that I grew up believing I was not enough and unworthy of love. This belief became embedded in my unconscious mind. Deep down inside, I believed I needed to do things to convince others I was good enough. This became the driving force behind my unhealthy pursuit of high achievements.
In personal relationships, I blamed myself whenever anything went awry. I gave up my boundaries to please my partner in order to keep the peace. In my mind, however, my coping mechanism reinforced my belief I was unworthy and unloveable. This created a hole in my soul that no amount of accomplishments could ever fill.
Converting the negative into positive
After decades of getting nothing out of complaining to others about my troubled childhood, I discovered there was another path. The secret to a more fulfilling life is to recast your experiences, not as good or bad, but as lessons to learn. I know this can be difficult to do, especially if you have been the victim of something horrible like a close family member molested you. This may require the help of a therapist or a life coach, but it is essential work that every person must do in order to evolve into a higher self.
Accepting your life experiences as lessons is not about justifying the bad behavior of the adults who surrounded you as you were growing up. Abusive behavior cannot be excused, period. But when you begin to see experiences as life lessons, you can connect how these experiences were a necessary align you with your purpose. When you stop condemning your experiences you open up the possibility to attain emotional healing. Here are five things you can do to convert your experiences into positive lessons. There is no magic potion that will make your pain disappear, but these steps will send you on your way to emotional healing so you can live a fuller life.
1) There is a higher power
Your first step towards overcoming the damage of your childhood begins with the belief in a Higher Power/God. This can be done in whatever form is acceptable to you. I know this is the God thing, but it is an important door to open in your life if you haven’t already done so. Having faith in a Higher Being that is part of all of us helps us know we are connected to one another. This helps you recover the notion that your life has meaning and that you are here to help create a greater good.
2) Your experiences have purpose
A Higher Consciousness gave your experiences to help shape you into the person you need to become. You may have suffered from them, but they had a necessary mission tailored for your development.
3) You are exactly where you need to be
Whether you are open and learning from your experiences or—like me—you are a slow learner who must repeat your lessons several times before you get them, know you are at the right point in your life. Everything about you has been built on what came before, there is no formula for evolving, each one of us grows at our own pace.
4) People are doing the best they know how
Even those people whom you believe to be the vilest, were born innocent. Like you, they too were shaped by their experiences. We cannot understand what caused them to become how they are. This does not mean we justify what they did, but knowing they were doing the best they knew enables us to judge the action and not the person. This is the key to forgiveness.
5) Forgiveness is an essential ingredient for self-healing.
Hanging on to hate is like latching on to a terrible disease. Hate festers and destroys everything good about us. Hatred justifies actions like revenge and violence. You cannot find fulfillment when you hate. Therefore, recognizing that others were doing their best, allows you to forgive them. Most importantly, this allows you to forgive yourself for you too were not equipped to handle the situation.
Part of forgiving ourselves is knowing we were not at fault. We must accept that we developed erroneous emotional mechanism—like my penchant for people pleasing— to manage the bad behavior of others, specially the adults in our lives. Remember, this was the best we could do at the time. Forgiving yourself means you can let those coping mechanism go and replace them with ones that support your value, your highest self.
Our lives are significant, we are worthy of love. You can choose to interpret your early experiences as life forming and not as proof that you are flawed and undeserving. It is just not true.
As always, wishing you a life filled with joy, love and serenity.