Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Forgiving Yourself

This could be the shortest bog I’ll ever write -- you have nothing to forgive. End of post.
While it’s the truth, you and I know it’s not that easy. It can take some time to internalize this knowledge. Still, when we think we’ve got it, some thought twirls up through the darkness of our past to needle us. “Maybe if I had stood up to him sooner.” “I should have left earlier.” “I let myself and children get into that mess.” All statements that blame us for something we couldn’t do or if we had done, would not have made a difference.
Having spent years believing that we were responsible for all the problems, our minds were on a spinning carousel searching for a way to make things better. We were convinced that we could make sense of things, so we could fix the relationship. There was no answer to be found because our partners were intentionally inconsistent to keep us off balance. They knew that as long as we were focused on trying to figure out what they wanted and expected, we wouldn’t have an opportunity to step back and see how outrageous they were treating us and leave them.
 Combine that with the constant battering of our self-esteem (teaching us that we are incompetent)--learned helplessness sets in. Scientists discovered that when an animal, trapped in a painful situation for a period of time, is given a way to avoid the pain it doesn’t take that opportunity. In the same manner humans who have had so many bad things happen that are beyond their control become exhausted and give up. They began to think, “Why bother. Nothing I do will make things better, anyway.” Learned helplessness. 
That was a lot to wrestle with, let alone find our way to freedom. But we did. We left.
Finding a safe place to live, work and raise our kids was a struggle. Those daily needs had to be a priority to survive, so we kept putting one foot in front of the other. Did we give ourselves credit for surviving? Did we see the magnificence of our efforts and achievements?  I hope so.
Out of the immediate danger, we believe we’ve come to terms with the truth--our former relationship would never have changed. However, inside our head that carousel is still turning. The feeling that we were responsible for the problems hasn’t left us. Nasty “I” statements that blame us for the whole mess haunt us. Let’s look at a few.
I let myself get into the relationship. We met a guy who lied to us about who he was. He played games with us. Told us what he knew we wanted to hear. How could we know that he wasn’t sincere? We couldn’t. Only time would tell us that. Just like a sleazy salesman, he put an unspoken time limit on his glowing offer of himself. Feeling very much in love, we rejoiced in his desire to be a couple and didn’t want to miss out on what appeared as a wonderful opportunity. Did we know this rushing into coupledom is a red flag. Not then. We do, now. We ended up in this relationship because we were tricked. That doesn’t make us stupid, it makes us human. We’ve learned an important lesson. Someone who really cares about us will give us the time we need to make a good decision about our future.
I put my kids through that. You did not make their home unsafe, your partner did. All you had control over was yourself--being the best Mom you could be under the circumstances. Your partner had the responsibility to cooperate with you to create a safe and loving home. You are not responsible for your partner’s behavior. You did the best you knew how to do at that time. Now you know better and will do better.  Seeing you leave the relationship and build a new life was, and is, an important lesson for your children.
I stayed too long. The relationship may have become too deadly, painful or you realized that things were not going to change. What ever the reason was, you left. You may wish that you had done it sooner, but you couldn’t leave until you were ready. Only you could determine when it’s time. Now that you know the red flags of an unhealthy relationship, you’re less likely to end up in another or if you do you will leave sooner.
When those self-doubts strut into our thoughts, let’s greet them with the truth- “I am sad that my children and I went through a terrible situation. I am not responsible for my former partner’s bad behavior. There was nothing I could do to change him. End of discussion. Go away.”

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