“Life is an adventure in learning to move beyond forgiveness to appreciation of others.”
– King Ayles, writer
“Beatrice was the matriarch of her family.”
Beatrice (Bea) marched into my office for her first appointment like a celebrity entering a reception in their honour. She was very direct, which some would probably call ‘blunt!’ She was strikingly tall and presented an air of assertiveness bordering on arrogance. She spoke with quick short statements which she assumed would not be challenged by anyone with any common sense.
In every sense of the word, Beatrice was the matriarch of her family. Even though she was well past sixty now, she still worked full time at one of the local box stores. She assumed, uncontested, the ‘protector’ role of her three children, their spouses and her grandchildren. She also controlled the accounts of the family business, and, with a vengeance, protected the family’s reputation in the community. Bea was not to be toyed with, by anyone, at any time.
“She blamed Ed for destroying her family.”
Bea’s partner of 38 years, Ed, was a reclusive, verbally abusive, plumber with a struggling business and an unresolved fantasy of being a professional golfer. Ed was constantly searching for new plumbing contracts while, at the same time, trying to employ two of his children, their son, Ben and their daughter, Jessica. Ed’s barracuda-style of communication was an even match for Bea’s. Their third child Chad, was left to fend for himself which was probably why he lived in their basement with his addiction to prescription painkillers.
When Bea first came to see me, she wanted me to fix her son who was hiding in her basement. But this moved very quickly to her relationship with Ed. She blamed Ed for destroying her family. She had a long list of proven examples which ranged from her oldest son’s shaky marriage to her other son’s addiction. She also pointed out she was currently estranged from her daughter, and that, apparently, was Ed’s fault too!
“Forgiveness is a delusion in thinking which slows you down!”
When I asked her why she didn’t just divorce him, she replied vehemently, “I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction!”
When I asked her why she didn’t just let it go and get on with her life, she said, with even more anger, “You mean forgive him? I will never forgive him!”
“Well I am glad to hear that!” I replied.
“Ken, why are you glad to hear that? My friends are always saying I should either divorce him, forgive him or ignore him!”
“Bea, I say I’m glad because forgiveness is a delusion in thinking which just slows you down!”
“The only real meaning of forgiveness to me is, ‘Thank you for-giving-me this experience’,
whatever it may be!” – Dr. John Demartini, author
“There is no need for you to forgive Ed…in fact, you owe him…”
“Ken, what are you talking about? Forgiveness is the advice most people give me.” she said with anger and confusion sliding across her face like a sobering shadow.
“Bea, forgiveness implies you haven’t benefitted by from your relationship with Ed; forgiveness suggests you aren’t stronger and smarter from your marriage; forgiveness implies you have lost more than you have gained from being with your husband. None of these are true, so there is no need for you to forgive Ed…in fact, you owe him a debt of gratitude!”
Bea was stunned! She sat back in her chair and looked at me with distain and disbelief. It was like someone had just dumped a bucket of ice water on her head and she couldn’t fathom why.
When she had regained her composure, she said, “Are you serious, Ken? Are you telling me I actually owe Ed for all the crap he has put me through for all these years?”
“Pick the one where you felt the worst…”
“Bea, let me ask you a question which may help you understand why I would say that. I want you to go back to your worst moment so far in your marriage to Ed. Tell me what was the situation at that moment?”
“Ken, there have been so many…and they continue today. I wouldn’t know where to start.” she replied with a resigned and depressive tone in her voice.
“Pick the one where you felt the worst…where you were the most upset!” I suggested.
“Well that cuts down the list a bit…but there are still lots of them. I guess what comes to mind is the day we were arguing about our son, Chad. Ed wanted to kick Chad out, and make him find his own way, instead of us supporting him…which we have been doing for years.”
“Bea, tell me more about Chad!”
“Chad is out youngest, but…he is now 34. He kind of tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a golf career. He went away on a golf scholarship after high school and so we didn’t see much of him. He worked hard at it for several years doing well. He built his skills and reputation in a very competitive sport. But then he severely injured his shoulder playing hockey one winter and his golf career ended abruptly. He has been kind of lost ever since, going from one thing to another, while trying to manage the chronic pain from his injuries.” she explained.
“What was Chad’s situation when you and Ed had this disagreement?” I asked
“How did you respond to his position on Chad at that very moment…”
“At that time, Chad had gone back to university…but he was bored with it. Then he had attended a trade school to study plumbing. I think, he was hoping to work with his father. But, just before he was to complete the program, he was arrested for marijuana possession. He had been living in our basement for almost three years by then. It’s like he has been waiting for his father to offer him a job, …just like he did for Ben and Jessica.”
“Bea, what was the gist of Ed’s position on that day?”
“Ken, he wanted to tell Chad to hit the road, to go find a job somewhere and to stop what he called ‘leeching’ off of us.”
“Bea, how did you respond to his position on Chad at that very moment…what did you say?”
“Ken, I told Ed he was being cruel…Chad was our ‘flesh and blood’; he needed our help not another rejection; that he should offer him work, not the door; that he should treat him like his other kids; that he should love him more; stuff like that…I have said these things to Ed so many times before…!”
“We have learned what we needed to learn from our past to ensure our survival…”
“Bea, freeze that moment in time in your memory for a moment because I want to ask you some other questions about it…OK?”
“But Bea, first a little explanation of where we are going. The reason you and I are here today talking is because we are alive and well. This really means we have learned, what we needed to learn from our past, to ensure our survival and well being, today. And, every event in our past contributes to us being here, right now! This means each event has important benefits for our future…even events we don’t like. When we understand this, and prove it to ourselves, we no longer use forgiveness, because we can see the benefits to us from every past event.” I added.
“Ken, are you saying I benefitted from my argument with Ed?”
“Yes I am…but we need to uncover it because, right now, you really don’t see it, do you?”
“That’s for sure…I’m not convinced it’s even true!” she replied sarcastically.
“How were your three highest values strengthened at that moment…?”
“Bear with me for a few moments, and, then you can decide for yourself…OK?” I paused then I said, “Bea, what would you say are your three highest values?”
“That’s easy…my family, my independence and my self-esteem!” she said quickly with assurance.
“So, how were your three highest values strengthened at the moment of your argument with Ed?” I asked.
Bea thought for a moment staring off and then said, “I guess I was trying to protect one of my children which is important to me, but beyond that, I don’t really see any other benefits.”
“Can you see how at that moment you were also exercising your independence from Ed…you were saying ‘I have my own values, not yours!’?”
“I suppose so.” she said hesitantly.
“Can you also see how when you protect your family and act independent, you are raising your self esteem as well?” I asked.
“I suppose that’s true too, Ken!”
“Can you also see how when you protect your family, act independent and raise your self esteem, you also relieve your stress at that moment?” I asked.
“Yes, I suppose I do, because it sure felt good to challenge him!”
“Bea’s entire demeanour was softening and her eyes were wet …”
“And Bea, can you also see how, at that moment, your spirit felt stronger too?”
“Well, I certainly felt my God would support me in the position I was talking!”
“And, can you see how you were clarifying important boundaries and expectation for Ed in your relationship with him, as well?”
“Yes,I was doing that too…even if it was an old conversation we have been having for a long time.”
“And I bet you have friends, who know of your challenges, and who respect you more for the positions you take in this situation and others…is that true, Bea?”
By now Bea’s entire demeanour was softening and her eyes were wet with awareness. Her anger and frustration was dissolving into a new awareness of what else was going on in her relationship with Ed.
“Ken, I have three really close friends. We have known each other for years. One is a widow, another divorced, and the third, married longer than me. And yes, I think they do respect me for how I stand up to Ed!”
“Shouldn’t there be less pain and more pleasure?”
“Bea, from my 35 years of experience working with thousands of people, their significant other’s purpose is to help them grow their self worth. It looks like your marriage to Ed has been doing this for you as well by helping you honour your own value system. Are you starting to see what Im saying?”
“Yes Ken I am! But what about before I got married…what was going on then?” she asked.
“My best guess would be you struggled to have self worth before you met him. Earlier in your life, did you struggle to value yourself within your family or with your friends…would that be true, Bea?”
Now the tears started flowing gently down her softening face. She said, struggling with her composure, “Ken, I grew up in a family of five kids…four brothers. And I had a father who treated me like I was stupid and so did my brothers…I have felt like I have had to prove myself every day of my life!”
“Bea, can you see how your relationship with Ed gives you that same opportunity to be who you need to be, do what you need to do, so you can have what you value which is a family, independence and self esteem? That’s why you have stayed in the marriage for so long.”
“But shouldn’t there be an easier way…shouldn’t there be less pain and more pleasure?”
…Forgiveness is someone who doesn’t yet see the benefits to the event…”
“Like everything in life, relationships follow the 50/50 law of balance which is 50% pleasure and 50% pain, at every moment. This law ensures we survive, learn and evolve as individuals, and as a species. And it applies to everyone…with no exceptions!” I said.
As she regained her composure, she brightened and said, “So forgiveness is someone who doesn’t yet see the benefits to the event…and when they do see it, like me, like right now…then there is no need for forgiveness…because there is no mistake in the event…is that it, Ken?”
“Bea, you have it perfectly!” I said smiling.
“Let’s check to be sure. When you think of that argument you had with Ed and you realize it was just another opportunity for you to be your own person, honour your own values and grow your self worth…was it a fair trade for you, was it worth the conflict with Ed?”
“Looking back now, I would say it was a fair trade…I certainly don’t regret any of it…so there was no mistake in what I said that day!”
“Forgiveness, like fear, is often an illusion of loss without gain!” – King Ayles, writer
“If he was agreeable at that moment I wouldn’t be able to be me…would I?”
“One more question Bea. Would you be willing to ignore your values, your independence and your self esteem to have Ed agree with you at that moment?” I asked.
She thought carefully for a long moment, then this came out, “If he was agreeable at that moment I wouldn’t be able to be me…would I?”
“So, then he was exactly the guy you needed to be with at that second to honour yourself and to grow yourself…can you see that now?”
“Yes, Ken, I can! Wow, what a difference this is going to make. I think I have a bunch of other memories which need the same analysis so I can move forward in my life,…eh?”
“Yes Bea, you’re right, we all need to do this analysis to learn to appreciate ourselves and others…and I can help you with that!”
And that’s what Bea did. Over the next few weeks she cleaned up a lot of one-sided perceptions she had been carrying around for most of her life. In doing so, her attitude toward herself and others shifted…she learned to appreciate herself and be more grateful for those around her.
Bea and Ed still had their conflicts but with her insights she realized they were just challenging each other to grow. She also started noticing the times they were getting along. And, she learned to value them more.
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, that is the myth of the atomic age, as in being able to remake ourselves. — Mahatma Gandhi, lawyer
Until Next time…
September’s theme of “RESOLVING RELATIONSHIPS” continues. We have addressed the purpose of relationships; the importance of parental relationships, infidelity and today, forgiveness.
Please remember to send us your feedback and monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question about RESOLVING RELATIONSHIPS or are looking for strategies for dealing with yours, contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Your lasting relationships will have equal amounts of support and challenge.
- Your truest love will provide an equal amount of support and challenge.
- Forgiveness is an illusion of loss without an equal gain.
- You will keep forgiving the same things, until you learn the lesson of balance.
- Your expectation of an apology shows blindness to natural laws.
- When you see both sides, apology or forgiveness, are not required.
- There are no mistakes in your life, so, no need for apologies or forgiveness.
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com