Forgiving Aging Parents Who Hurt You

Studies have shown that people who are able to forgive are happier and healthier than those who can’t. It actually takes more effort to hold onto resentments than it does to let them go. The idea seems simple enough, but forgiving someone is not a simple act for those who’ve been hurt, especially by their parents.

The idea of forgiveness is important in many religions, and each has a different philosophy about it. My approach is from a psychological perspective, which sees forgiveness as a process. I’ve broken it into steps for ease of explaining it, but it’s not exactly a step-by-step process.

It’s important to remember that forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you approve of what the person did. It is not condoning the behavior.

1. Admit that you’ve been hurt. People often try to deny to themselves they were hurt. Once you’re able to be honest with yourself that you were hurt, you can begin to move forward, in spite of the hurt. Denying it keeps you stuck.

2. Recognize that the offense changed you. If you had an abusive, or neglectful parent, it had an impact on your life and shaped who you are. The ways you were affected aren’t necessarily all negative. Seeing that you changed in positive ways can be helpful. For instance, you may have more compassion toward others because of what you went through.

3. Try to view the situation in a new way. It may make you more able to consider forgiving the other person and more willing to do so. Maybe your father was neglectful because he had you at a young age and wasn’t ready to be a parent. Is it possible that even though he neglected you, he was doing the best he could?

4. Find empathy and compassion for the offender. This is a big step but without it I’m not sure forgiving someone is possible. This doesn’t mean you’re excusing what your parent did but that you understand why it might have happened. Going back to the example in #3, you might be able to empathize with what it might be like to be a young parent. Or, if your mother stayed in an abusive relationship, was it because she didn’t have family support and she felt lost; to cope she sought a relationship thinking that she needed the help of someone else to raise you, no matter how bad the relationship was.

5. Other things that can help you move toward forgiveness:
• recognize that others have been hurt by someone and were able to overcome it.
• remember a time you asked for forgiveness and what it felt like to be forgiven.

Notice I didn’t suggest you go to the person and forgive them. Forgiveness doesn’t require the actual act of telling others they’re forgiven. They may not think they need to be forgiven for anything. This is about you forgiving them, because it’s best for you. John W. James and Russell Friedman, in their book, The Grief Recovery Handbook, suggested the following phrase to a woman who resisted the word forgiveness: “I acknowledge the things that you did or did not do that hurt me and I am not going to let them hurt me anymore.” Forgiving someone is about letting go of what is still giving them power over you.

The benefit in forgiveness is a release from old ways of thinking and feeling. Forgiving makes it possible to move forward and make different choices, find new joy in the world and those around you and be in the moment instead of stuck in the past.

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