I have been challenged to tackle the subject of forgiveness as it specifically relates to the family with a special needs person. What a challenge that is!
Like love, forgiveness needs to start at home. That would mean that I would have to truly forgive myself for all of the mistakes I’ve made through the years. Wow! Is that even possible? Yes, it is possible. I’ve had several moments in my life where I just decided to give myself a break and stop blaming myself for the mistakes I’ve made. But, I have found, like grief, self-forgiveness seems to be something I need to do again and again. It doesn’t appear to be a one-time-covers-all-mistakes event.
And then after forgiving myself I’d then need to forgive others who have wronged or hurt or me and/or the ones I love. That somehow seems an easier challenge. It is easier for me to explain away others actions as motivated by ignorance, carelessness, or self-preservation and just let them off the hook. It’s a lot harder for me to let myself off the hook, because I have to live with the results of my mistakes every day.
What is forgiveness? The dictionary defines forgiveness as: to excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon; to renounce anger or resentment against. Forgiveness then involves two parts: 1) excusing the offense or pardoning, and 2) letting go of resentment against the offense.
As a parent of an adult with Asperger Syndrome, the list of things I need to forgive myself for is lengthy. What about all that early erroneous advice I took from well-meaning professionals who meant well and really believed the advice they were giving me? I still wish to this day that I had not only listened to my heart, but actually followed my heart to take the actions I felt were right at the time!
The one thing I have totally decided to forgive myself for is for causing my son’s disability. I’ve decided that I really had no control over this and, therefore, if I had no control then I cannot blame myself for the outcome. At least I’ve totally put that one to bed.
What about all the times I made mistakes about how to handle his behavior that actually made it harder for him to develop into a happy adult? What about all the times I should have handled things differently with my neurotypical son? What about all the choices I made in my career that now obviously weren’t good choices? What about all the times I’ve settled in my personal life because I felt I had no other real choice?
I guess self-forgiveness for me is all about realizing and accepting that I did the very best I could do with the knowledge I had at the time. If you are searching for a way to accept decisions you made in the past, I encourage you to realize that we can only make decisions based on the knowledge we have at the moment the decision was made.
So, in a way I have rationally forgiven myself because I realize that I had no real control over the situation at the time. I only had the understanding and knowledge that I had at that moment to make the decision. What I have not been able to continuously do is let go of the resentment or anger at myself for being so stupid! That’s the emotional part of forgiving oneself—really letting go of the anger and resentment at oneself for making mistakes.
So, for me, forgiving others is not nearly as hard as forgiving myself. I can rationalize their behavior that hurt me and let go of most of the anger. For the rest of the people who I need to forgive, but cannot find complete forgiveness for their actions, I put them in a “hole” in my mind where they sit until the day comes when I will be totally able to forgive them and let go of the anger and hurt.
Unfortunately, I still find it difficult to rationalize my own behavior that has placed me where I am in life now. But, every day I keep trying and I focus my energy on helping others avoid some of the mistakes I made. That gives me the hope and courage to keep going.