My birth mother has always refused to tell anyone that I exist. One time when we were at a coffee shop together (I was about fifteen at the time), her coworker came to our table, looked back and forth between us, and bluntly asked who I was (since I looked almost exactly like her).
Instead of introducing me, she said that I was nobody and that she’d explain later. Ouch. It turned out that no one aside from a few key family members knew about me and I was told that that was not going to change. It didn’t bother me at first but then we’d watch old family Christmas videos and they’d all laugh about the fact that she was only shot from the neck up the year of my birth. Or the time we were at a family barbecue and they realized one of their aunts didn’t know who I was and they thought it was hilarious. They didn’t introduce me.
The last straw for me was when my great grandmother died and I asked to attend the funeral. I was now thirty two years old and it had been a solid eighteen years that I was physically in her life. I was told that I could attend but that many people wouldn’t know who I was and I was not to correct that. I was to introduce myself as the friend of the family they randomly met one day years before and just kept in touch with.
I felt like there shouldn’t have been a need to introduce me after all that time. I had started having my own children by then and the thought of them feeling like dirty little secrets was overwhelming. I knew I couldn’t let it go on any further and so I wrote a letter. I explained how I felt, how hard it was for me to feel that way after so many years, and that I could not and would not let my children feel that way. I knew they wouldn’t be fawned over on social media because no one knew she was a grandmother. I wondered what would happen when one of my half sisters had a baby. Would they be introduced as her first grandchild? It cut me up inside.
In the letter I asked that we either continue our relationship out in the open so that I was no longer a secret, or we didn’t continue it at all. I couldn’t take it anymore and I still believe that no human being should ever be kept a secret. To my shock and dismay I received a letter in return. I was told that she had no intention of ever telling people who I was. I was also accused of being a super religious zealot who was trying to worm my way into their family. There was much confusion as to why I was trying to be a part of their family when I had my own.
I can hardly explain to you the depth of the pain that caused. I read the letter once, closed it, and never opened it again. It left a big chunk of my heart shattered and I felt completely numb. I think I stayed on my bed for hours that day just staring at the wall. She chose her secret over a relationship with me and her grandchildren. Her secret was more important to her than any of us. Suffice it to say, she has never apologized for what was probably the most painful moment of my entire life and I don’t know that she ever will. And guess what? I’m okay with that. Crazy right? Here’s the thing.
My forgiveness can’t depend on her apology. What if it never comes? Am I going to stay bitter, angry, and resentful forever awaiting an apology that isn’t coming? My feelings have no effect on her: good or bad. By staying in a negative frame of mind and constantly replaying the hurt over and over in my head and heart, I am punishing myself. Haven’t I been robbed of enough? Haven’t you?
Did you know that un-forgiveness causes physical issues in the body? Un-forgiveness can be linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, etc because holding onto bitterness and anger is actually really harmful to your body. Think about how angry you can instantly become when you think about someone who has done you (or someone you love) wrong. Physically, your body goes into its fight or flight mode. Your adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Over time your body will begin to cry out for help in the form of headaches, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, etc. You were not created to live in a constant state of stress and anger.
So what do you do? Forgive. I know, I know, easier said than done right? I don’t know what hurts have befallen you and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t matter. It does matter. It matters more than we could ever know and our traumas have paved our paths so far. But in this life we get to choose how to respond to devastating circumstances. We get to decide whether we are going to wallow in well deserved self pity, or if we’re going to pick ourselves back up, dust ourselves off, and carry on.
Holding onto un-forgiveness doesn’t hurt the person we’re angry with. It hurts us! We deserve better than what’s happened to us, that’s a fact. But hear me on this: they likely don’t even understand the depth of pain they’ve caused. And if they do, maybe they don’t even care.
Everyone has a story, everyone has been wounded deeply by someone. That’s the way it goes isn’t it? Hurt people hurt other people. We’ve all heard the saying. Do you want to be stuck in a cycle of anger and hurt? If you don’t lay this burden down it’s going to wind up hurting others whether you mean to or not.
If you need help in this area please feel free to jump into my Facebook group here. I’d love to help!
To hear more of my thoughts on forgiveness check out this video!