Coping Challenge: Practicing Forgiveness for People from My Past

Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.

*Trigger Warning: This post may contain triggers; read at your own pace*

*Caveat 1 – This is a journal-entry style post so it looks like a first draft with errors, etc. *

Forgiveness does not change what has been done, but frees your future.

~K. M. Shea from the short story “Forgiven” in Snowflakes

Flashbacks

It’s funny what memories and experiences certain times of the year bring to my consciousness.

August is full of memories about relatives and school experiences. The excitement of learning something (always feels safe) combined with the dread of having to deal with people again (never feels safe even now) makes me feel jittery. Yes, jittery.

People were kind because they wanted something from me. Or they were mean because the adults were mean – some even encouraged the racism and bullying. Very few people from my past were genuinely kind and supportive. They stand out like beacons even as the rest of me drowns in fear and hate when the flashbacks take over.

That makes physical triggers (appearance, tone of voice, gestures, etc.) a minefield of traps outside of my safe world. Phone calls, work messages, social interactions outside of my apartment, they all have the potential to trigger a flashback. And that’s when the agoraphobia kicks in…

Reflection

Forgiveness is something I choose to practice as often as possible in all parts of my life. But it’s complicated. Because sometimes one’s words, actions, or choices don’t appear to stem from forgiveness. Or many people’s idea of forgiveness.

That is something that often troubles me. Because while I choose to forgive people and offer chances, I also maintain strong boundaries and do not easily let people back into my life. So am I practicing forgiveness? Or am I just speaking about it without backing up the words with actions?

And what about the alter personalities? Just because one part of me offers forgiveness, doesn’t mean all parts of me do. Or that alters will stay out of interactions with people from the past as we meet in unexpected ways. Because all parts of me get involved when one or more sense potential danger. And interacting with people from the past is a red flag for potential danger.

This is another instance where INTENTION MATTERS. If the intention behind my words and actions is forgiveness, then that is my goal even if the outside world perceives the interaction differently.

Plus, I can forgive people and still be reserved around them. I can choose to be polite and kind without being friendly, open or trusting. And I can keep out people who don’t change in order to stay safe.

Forgiveness

The words are easy to say, but putting intention and action to back them are more difficult.

I’ve had the opportunity to encounter people from my past over the last few years. They often do not result in a positive experience. Random encounters with people from my past scare me and bring out my alter personalities. It’s often a 3/4 to complete switch where I don’t remember words or interactions. And my alters do not often share the experience with me or anyone else either.

But what I can say is that all parts of me have embraced the tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and use the Interpersonal Effectiveness tools as often as possible no matter who is in charge. In that sense, I am not worried about the words coming out of my mouth being abusive or mean or derogatory.

All parts of me do worry about whether or not the words coming out are in alignment with the value of practicing forgiveness or something else.

For me, the definition of forgiveness is in the quote at the top of this page. I don’t offer forgiveness to change people. I offer forgiveness to free myself from the past. That freedom gives me space to grow, change, and bring more love into my life.

Love, acceptance, kindness, forgiveness, empathy, consideration…all those positive words that include all living beings and connect me to something greater than myself.

So when the fear takes over and my alters are in charge, I trust them to consider our shared values as they interact with people from the past. Forgiveness means letting go of the past in order to move on in the present and future. It does not mean forgetting or allowing toxic people to continue hurting me or people I care about.

And that you see is my conundrum. While I do practice forgiveness, I have a hard time giving people from childhood through young adulthood a chance to be in my life again. I don’t trust the people they are connected to not to hurt me whether directly or indirectly. Which means I can’t relax and be myself around them.

The fear gets in the way.

And so I work hard to offer forgiveness while maintaining a healthy skepticism and not letting many people back into my life. For a chance to re-build a relationship, the other person or people must be willing to meet me in the middle in terms of give-and-take, open communication, and acceptance. Trust and respect come later.

The sad part is that many people from my past often come into my life in order to spy on me or get information to use against me. And so I nip that in the bud with brutally honest, borderline rude, sometimes mean-sounding words and actions. I try polite and kind first, even when I don’t recognize or remember them at first.

Because they don’t understand kindness or respect boundaries, I have to use harsher methods to make them understand that they won’t get away with their old manipulations in the present.

And if people who recognize and remember me choose to pretend I don’t exist (my preference), I do the same and continue on with life.

Visiting Home

This is why I am terrified about visiting the city where I grew up. It’s why I feel conflicted about going back to Massachusetts sometimes.

And why I am not excited about visiting family or going to my parents’ home, yet extremely excited to see them, my brother, and my puppy niece.

Forgiveness offers me a chance and a pathway back to my family and some people from the past by offering me freedom from the trauma.

But only I can truly make this work. And that will always be a work-in-progress lifetime goal.

Thanks for reading.