Forgiveness

Note: I realized as I was writing this week's offering that there is plenty of attention given to dysfunction in our society and so I decided to focus on something good instead of more stories about the crazy things that clients do. Previous installments of all previous blogs can be found on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/

I was talking with a client just this morning about moving on, moving forward in life away from the past, bitter experiences, and unhappiness. He shared with me that his father had abandoned him and his family when he was very young and that he had had very little contact with his father, even though he (my client) is now nearing 40.

I asked him a question, "Have you forgiven him?" He thought about that for a minute and finally replied, "I am not sure." I decided to prime the pump a little and shared my experience with my own very dysfunctional family; including that I had very little contact with mine, either. Then I added, "And that's OK."

He wanted to know more about how I had moved on, so I told him. The first thing that was very fortuitous for me in the "moving on" process was the transition that I had to make following my return from SE Asia in 1972 and my separation from the military in 1973. All of my frustrations and anger over that sad and stupid experience started to come out in the worst ways as I attempted to assimilate into civilian life. Faced with any conflict, personal or professional, my response was very basic - fight or flight. At the end of my first year as a civilian, I had an impressive resume of "previous" jobs, none of which lasted more than a few months.

Realizing that I had a problem, with my relationships, the way I looked at life, as well as my dependence on alcohol as a way to forget, I sought help. I ended up in a clinical setting for a year, meeting weekly with a psychologist, who helped me quite simply, transform the technicolor and the surround sound of my experience in-country into the stuttering flicker of an 8mm black and white movie with monaural sound. Better yet I became aware that I had the power and the will to file it all away when it interfered in my life. This significant life discovery was also the beginning of an awareness that I had to take responsibility for my own life and stop blaming my unhappy family experience for my woes and dysfunction.

Some other key learnings I gained from that year-long journey with my counselor; moving on has to also be a process of forgiveness, first for myself and then for those that I felt had wronged me. That is the tough part; no, not so much forgiving others, but forgiving myself. I had an incredible ability to relive, rehash, and resurface any unpleasantness from my past with remarkable acuity and ability to come up with new ways to blame myself for whatever had happened.

So, what's the secret for moving on and moving forward? Am I suggesting that all of you need to seek professional help? No. There is no one answer. For one, I believe it is an accumulation of steps away from the perceived object of pain and replacing it with positive steps and experiences that hopefully, will overwrite that bad area of your life's hard drive.

That's one step; another was a process I learned was to fully understand another person by looking at the same situation I was looking at from their POV. What were their motivations, their experience, their perception of the conflict we were experiencing together? Gaining that perspective, usually from non-judgmental and focused listening, has usually allowed me to see that my perception is not the only way of looking at things.

Finally, returning to where I started, when I said to my client, "And that's OK" that I had very little contact with my family. I learned that I was very different from my family and that it was OK not to have a Leave it to Beaver family stereotype. The real way I learned that was also through the necessary experience of draining that color out of my military adventure in SE Asia. It was the realization that, although our families provide us with a scripted version of a plan for our lives, it is not the only script and, even better, you can write your own!

Many thanks to that unnamed client (you know who you are) that provided the impetus for this week's post.

Next week: How does the past motivate us today?